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November 29, 2012

Notre Dame blasts cold-shooting Cats 64-50

SOUTH BEND, Ind. - Not all the shots were going to fall. Not all the stops were going to come.

John Calipari's been around long enough to know that No. 8 Kentucky - with its three freshman starters and its solitary senior - wouldn't be a world-beater Thursday night at Notre Dame.

But he didn't see that coming.

The Irish rocked the Wildcats 64-50 at Purcell Pavilion at the Joyce Center, holding the Wildcats to 40.4 percent shooting and handing UK only its second double-digit loss in three-plus seasons under Calipari.

"I didn't expect us to come in here and play out of our minds, but I would've hoped we would've competed," Calipari said afterward. "I thought at least (in a loss) against Duke we competed, we battled and we fought like crazy. In this game, we just didn't."

Notre Dame (7-1) was the aggressor. The veteran Irish, playing in front of a rowdy, black-clad crowd announced at 9,149 fans, pounced on Kentucky (4-2) in the first half, led 36-25 by halftime and pulled away to lead by as many as 20 points in the second half.

By the end, ears were ringing and Notre Dame students were storming the floor.

"(A loud crowd) can make you play a little fast sometimes if you're young," Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said. "It can make you take quick shots if you're young. It can rattle you a little bit. And I think it did that."

UK scored its fewest points under Calipari - the previous low came in a 56-55 loss to Connecticut in a 2011 NCAA semifinal - and lost by double figures for the first time since the UConn beat the Cats 84-67 earlier that season at the Maui Invitational.

The sluggish offense - UK committed 12 turnovers, got four fast-break points and shot 4-for-14 from three-point range - wasn't what the Wildcats hoped for. But Calipari and senior Julius Mays seemed most distressed by the way the Irish out-clawed the Cats.

"Just got out-competed from start to finish," said Mays, who led UK with 16 points on 5-for-10 shooting, including 4-for-7 on three-pointers. "We didn't play hard. I didn't feel like we played hard. They competed harder than we did, and they came out and wanted it more than we did."

The Irish shot the lights out from three-point range (8-for-15), outrebounded the Cats 33-27 and kept their composure in front of a raucous crowd that appeared at times to rattle Kentucky.

"I heard their coach screaming out different plays each time time down the court," said Notre Dame Jerian Grant, who scored 13 points. "We have a lot of old guys and veterans who have been there."

More so than in any game this season, Kentucky looked young. Point guard Archie Goodwin had three points on 1-for-7 shooting and played, Calipari said, "out of control" for the first time this season.

"I think the one (Goodwin) shot hit the shot clock," Calipari said. "Did it?"

It appeared to - or at least to sail over the backboard.

It was that sort of night for UK, which struggled to find any rhythm offensively, the product of the Cats' inexperience and Notre Dame's stingy defense. Kentucky shot 37.5 percent in the first half, making 1-of-8 three-pointers.

"We weren't looking for each other," Calipari said. "Whoever had it was trying to score it, and you can't really play that way. And so hopefully we'll watch some tape and figure stuff out."

There's plenty for Kentucky to figure out, and very little time in which to do it. The Cats hit the court again at 12:30 p.m. Saturday, when they host Baylor at Rupp Arena.

UK's unlikely to solve all its issues by then.

But the Cats have time. And Brey likes the Cats' potential.

"I'm glad we played them now, because they're really talented and they're going to be better in January and February," Brey said. "But I was really confident in our group on this night."

Brey said the Irish "didn't look at this as an upset," but for Kentucky, there were upsetting signs.

The Cats couldn't string together enough offense make a sustained run, largely because the defense broke down at key times.

Chalk up some of that to the Notre Dame crowd - and the Irish's talented veterans. But some of the fault for Thursday's beating falls on Kentucky's lack of composure, and it's critical for the Cats to solve that over time.

"We all better get used to it," Mays said. "It's going to be a night-in, night-out basis (where) crowds are going to be like this everywhere we go."

And so Calipari will hope that his team takes some lessons home from Notre Dame.

"We just didn't compete," Calipari said. "But we didn't execute. We didn't play together. There were a lot of things that went out the window. But it was the first true road game. Bunch of young kinds trying to figure it out. What I hope they figure out is, you've got to do it together."


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