By LARRY VAUGHT
11:28 AM EST, November 30, 2012
SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Sometimes it’s hard to explain why a team loses a game. This wasn’t one of them.
Notre Dame had an older team playing at home in front of an inspired crowd and outplayed Kentucky all but the first five minutes to win 64-50 Thursday night.
“We just got out competed from the start,” said UK¿senior guard Julius Mays, who had seven points in the first five minutes to help UK¿take a 12-6 lead. “We didn’t play hard. They competed harder than we did.”
Just ask Kentucky coach John Calipari what he thought of his freshman-dominated team.
“I kind of expected this. Disappointed we didn’t compete. They beat us to balls. They beat us to the basket. We just didn’t compete. We didn’t execute and didn’t play together. A lot of things went out the window,” Calipari said. “It was our first (true) road game. I¿hope they figure out we have to do it together. Give Notre Dame credit. They ground us out. That’s how we usually play.”
Not against Notre Dame. Not on this night.
The Irish trotted out the football captains of their No. 1 football team. They had a “black out” planned and gave every fan a black Notre Dame T-shirt. More importantly, coach Mike Brey’s team had pointed for this game since being knocked out of last year’s NCAA Tournament. This was a statement game for a veteran Notre Dame team — and it played that way. The Irish were more physical, better defensively and more patient on offense while winning their 46th straight home game in November.
“I am glad we played them now. They are really young and talented,” Brey said. “They are going to be better in January and February. But I was very confident in our group on this night. We didn’t look at it as an upset. We felt we had a team that had played together and could get in our rhythm against a young group.
“We are so confident here. It was beautiful to watch. With the way our guards were playing, I did not have to do much.”
Calipari did — and could never find anything that worked consistently.
Kentucky was only 19-for-47 from the field, a 40 percent mark, while the Irish were 24-for-50 overall, 48 percent, and 8-for-15 from 3-point range. Kentucky blocked only three shots, all in the second half. UK was outrebounded 33-27.
Freshman Archie Goodwin, who has been so good in the absence of Ryan Harrow, struggled. He was 1-for-7 from the field, lost the ball in transition, took some ill-advised shots (including one that hit the shot clock) and had a season-low three points. He had seven rebounds and five assists. He was credited with only two turnovers — but it seemed like more.
Then there was freshman forward Alex Poythress, who came into the game off four straight 20-point games. No UK¿freshman had done that since 1979. However, he got two fouls in five minutes — when UK¿had the lead — and had two points, took only one shot and grabbed just two rebounds. He had three turnovers.
That’s why what Brey called a “great night with great energy in the building” was an eye-opening experience for Calipari’s team. This was the lowest point total the Cats have scored since Calipari took over — the previous low was 55 against Connecticut in the 2011 Final Four and last year’s low total was 57. The Cats barely avoided the worst defeat (84-67 to UConn in the 2010 Maui Classic) in Calipari’s tenure thanks to a late rally that cut the lead to 60-50.
Brey certainly didn’t offer excuses for Kentucky or apologize for the Cats’ play, but he offered a worthwhile observation about how the crowd likely impacted the game.
“It can make you play a little fast if you are young. It can make you take quick shots, can rattle you. I¿think it did,” Brey said. “Our crowd was our sixth man. The building was electric. When our atmosphere is like that, it’s hard to beat us.”
Was Kentucky as rattled as it looked like?
“Possibly with this being our first road game. We all better get used to it. I think it will be like this on a night in, night out basis and crowds will be like this everywhere we go,” Mays, who had a team-high 16 points on 5-for-10 shooting and three assists, said. “We had to take this as a learning experience, not hold our heads down. We’ve got another big one (against Baylor) Saturday.”
But Brey implied writing off Kentucky because of this loss would be a mistake. He cited how his team’s experience helped the Irish not “dwell” on a bad half or bad stretch of play. Kentucky still has that to learn along with incorporating sophomore Ryan Harrow (two points, no assists in nine minutes) back into the lineup now that he’s healthy after missing the previous four games.
“I think it will be interesting to see how they are with Harrow back in the point guard role so Goodwin can play off the ball,” Brey said. “I love Kyle Wiljter. He’s becoming more of a man. The young big guys are talented. Mays is a man and a steady guy. I just wonder with Harrow back that if in a month the flow will be different because they have the quarterback (Harrow) back.”
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