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Greatness within reach for Cats after win over Irish

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Greatness within reach for Cats after win over Irish

Post  BestdamnUKfanperiod on Thu Dec 09, 2010 11:54 pm

Greatness within reach for Cats after win over Irish

Brian Rickerd/State Journal Sports Writer
about 9 hours ago
AP/Ed Reinke Kentucky guard Brandon Knight drives on Notre Dame’s Ben Hansbrough during the second half of their game in Louisville on Wednesday. Knight had 20 points in the 72-58 Kentucky win.
AP/Ed Reinke Kentucky guard Brandon Knight drives on Notre Dame’s Ben Hansbrough during the second half of their game in Louisville on Wednesday. Knight had 20 points in the 72-58 Kentucky win.

LOUISVILLE - UK basketball coach John Calipari says he hasn't figured out why his Wildcats are not great yet.

But Kentucky's 72-58 victory over a solid, experienced Notre Dame team Wednesday night here at Freedom Hall should tell Calipari and the UK fan base that this team may not be too far from getting where they want to be.

Coming off a disheartening, 75-73, loss Saturday at North Carolina, the young Wildcats played with poise beyond their years in a second-half dismantling of a Notre Dame team that started five seniors.

Kentucky improved to 6-2 while the Irish lost for the first time against eight wins.

"There's something holding us back that I haven't pegged yet," Calipari said. "I think a little of it may be trust, a little of it may be chemistry. That being said, we're still pretty good.

"We want to be great. But that's why you play these games, to figure it out."

Kentucky is learning quickly. In fact, I would argue that in the last 25 minutes Wednesday, the Wildcats were at least on the cusp of being great.

The Irish led 38-27 with less than five minutes to go before halftime, thanks to some other-wordly perimeter shooting by Notre Dame's Ben Hansbrough. Hansbrough had 19 of his 21 points in the first half and proved to be even more obnoxious than his older brother Tyler, gloating after each and every shot like that single basket had won the national championship.

But the Wildcats shut up Hansbrough those final 25 minutes of the game and shut down Notre Dame in the process, outscoring the Irish 45-20 the rest of the way.

"I have to give Kentucky credit defensively,'' said Notre Dame coach Mike Brey. "They really took Ben away in the second half. They face guarded him."

"We felt like if we could stop him (Hansbrough), that we could win pretty easily," said UK freshman forward Terrance Jones.

"That's probably the most size, length and intensity that we've faced," Brey said of the Wildcats. "It was hard for us to find stuff. Playing against their set defense was hard for us tonight. That's why we missed some layups. Their length distracted us around the basket."

That and the fact that the Irish had no answer for UK's super freshmen - Jones and point guard Brandon Knight.

Both Jones and Knight played the best games of their young college careers on the late-night ESPN stage in front of a rowdy, near capacity crowd.

Jones had 27 points (9 of 18 from the field, and 7 of 10 at the free throw line) and 17 rebounds (15 defensively), while Knight added 20 points, four rebounds, five assists, two turnovers and one steal.

"They made big plays, big shots," Brey said, referring to Kentucky in general, but then singling out Jones and Knight.

"Jones is an amazing talent," Brey said. "We tried zone, we tried doubling, (but then) he made passes and they made jump shots. He (Jones) Is just really a tough matchup. He really lets the game come to him. He has a poise about him.

"Neither of those guys, Jones or Knight, play like freshmen."

Calipari said this was the closest Knight has come to running the team like he wants.

"Brandon ran the club ... the best he's run the club all year," Calipari said.

"Brandon was running our team and getting us into things, and we were getting some easy points," Jones said. "It's easy to play when you have guys who can knock down shots like we can."

Kentucky out-rebounded Notre Dame 42-34.

I'm not suggesting the Wildcats are anywhere near a final product, but this game should be a huge step forward as UK prepares to face Indiana Saturday (5:15 p.m. on ESPN) at Rupp Arena.

Calipari was extremely pleased coming off the disappointing loss at North Carolina.

"There are times when only crisis brings about change, and that Carolina game was a little bit of a crisis because of how we played," Calipari said.

"We've got all kinds of holes to plug, but I like my team," he added. "I'm having fun with them. And we've got time. We're getting where we need to be."


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