Notre Dame athletics are now 13-0 in games in which Manti Te'o has attended.
OK, I'm not exactly sure if that's factual, but with the talented linebacker in attendance, the Irish basketball team rolled to an easy 64-50 win over No. 8 Kentucky on Thursday night.
Come to think of it, it was a very grind-it-out, Notre Dame-football kind of win for the home team.
Fueled by a raucous Joyce Center crowd, Mike Brey's squad came out with focus, energy, passion and, most importantly, an incredible effort on the defensive end.
Kentucky's youth was exposed.
The young Wildcats, who boast three true freshmen in the starting lineup and no pure point guard with Ryan Harrow (two points, zero assists) still slowly rebounding from an extended absence, just couldn't deal with Notre Dame's toughness and ability to slow the game down.
Mostly operating out of the half court, John Calipari's team looked lost on the offensive end. It couldn't utilize Archie Goodwin (three points) or Alex Poythress (three points) and trailed, 36-25, at halftime.
After more of the same in the second half, the Wildcats finished shooting just 40.4 percent from the field (4-of-14 from deep) and scored the least amount of points since dropping 46 against Kansas in 2006.
Unsurprisingly, Kentucky's most veteran player, senior transfer Julius Mays, led the team with 16 points
Of course, this one wasn't all about Notre Dame's suffocating defensive effort, as the offense made quick cuts and swung the ball with precision, freeing up open shots all night long. The Irish shot 48 percent from the field and 53.3 percent (8-of-15) from deep. They had 13 assists on 24 baskets.
The Irish moved to 7-1, while Kentucky dropped to 4-2. Still, though, don't count out the Wildcats. The talented young core will surely be playing better in February when it has more experience.
"Welcome to the real world. It sucks." I was reminded of that line from Friends—yes, Friends—when I read this tweet from ESPN's Myron Medcalf:
Welcome to college basketball on the road, Kentucky. It ain’t fun.— Myron Medcalf (@MedcalfByESPN) November 30, 2012
ESPN's Eamonn Brennan noted this year's Kentucky squad is just a tad different than last year's:
The Wiltjer/Mays handoff-screen game is not quite as effective as the Davis/Miller/Lamb handoff-screen game.— Eamonn Brennan (@eamonnbrennan) November 30, 2012
That's just one of many differences from last year's national-championship squad. Another, as the Wildcats showcased Thursday night, is their inability to fight back from a halftime deficit (via ESPN's John Buccigross):
Only once last year Kentucky trailed by 11+ points at halftime: trailed by 13 vs Miss State. outscored Bulldogs 45-23 in 2nd half for win.— John Buccigross (@Buccigross) November 30, 2012
Of course, shooting like this (via ESPN Stats & Info) doesn't always help, either:
Kentucky entered day shooting 56% from field (best in Div I), but 10-29 (35%) so far vs Notre Dame #SECvBigEast— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) November 30, 2012
But enough about Kentucky's struggles in this one. Notre Dame, which played a nearly flawless game on both ends of the court, deserves heaps of credit. So, here's a tweet from Bonnie Bernstein:
Notre Dame is playing suffocating defense against Kentucky. And I'm not talking about the football team.— Bonnie Bernstein (@BonnieBernstein) November 30, 2012
Player of the Game: Jack Cooley
You could go a number of different ways here.
Eric Atkins poured in a team-high 16 points to go with four assists and three steals, while Jerian Grant caught fire in the second half and finished with 13 points and six assists.
No one wants to play against that backcourt.
Nonetheless, I have to go with Cooley, whose energy and toughness inside was representative of how the Irish won this game.
Additionally, he finished with 13 points and 11 rebounds while holding Nerlens Noel to just seven rebounds and a block (and four fouls).
The Irish will look to keep the good times rollin' when they take on Brown a week from Saturday at home, while the Wildcats have an intriguing matchup with similarly athletic Baylor at home in two days.
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