BOZICH: Irish Say Confused Kentucky Will Be Scary In March
SOUTH BEND, Ind. (WDRB) – Let's begin with this: Notre Dame overwhelmed Kentucky, 64-50, Thursday night in Purcell Pavilion, and John Calipari thought the Irish treated his UK players the way Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o treats opposing quarterbacks.
"This was Notre Dame throwing around Kentucky and winning by as much as they need to win," Calipari said.
I believe we can all agree on that.
Before we get to the reasons for the punishing Notre Dame dominance, let's stop hyperventilating and pointing fingers long enough to listen to what Fighting Irish point guard Eric Atkins, the game's best player, had to say about Calipari's immature team.
"They're a really good group of freshmen," said Atkins, who scored 16 points and dogged Archie Goodwin on the defensive end. "They'll be really good in January and February."
What about March? That is the month that matters in Kentucky.
"They will definitely be scary in March," Atkins said. "Calipari-coached teams will always get better throughout the year. I'm just happy we got out of here with a win."
Now, let's return to what irked Calipari. Notre Dame was the more assertive, aggressive and determined team. Notre Dame pushed. Occasionally Kentucky pushed back. Mostly, Kentucky retreated.
The Wildcats did not attack. They scored 50, the fewest a UK team has scored since Calipari arrived more than three seasons ago. They were beaten on the boards (33-27) by a smaller, less talented team. They scored seven second-chance points. They struggled to create easy baskets. They were slow to pressure Notre Dame on the perimeter, so the Irish made 8 of 15 three-point shots.
"I'm disappointed that we didn't compete," Calipari said.
Notre Dame had a thorough scouting report on Archie Goodwin. Atkins and Jerian Grant, coach Mike Brey's guards, were told to play off Goodwin and make him shoot from 15 feet and beyond. Goodwin averaged 19 points during Kentucky's first five games by feasting in the lane.
This game was no feast for Goodwin. He took seven shots. He made one. That's 10 less than Goodwin had scored in any college game.
"I think Archie was playing out of control for the first time," Calipari said.
Kentucky's second leading scorer has been Alex Poythress, the freshman forward with a body that could intimidate Te'o. Poythress did not intimidate anybody Thursday.
Poythress averages 18. He also scored three. He took one shot.
"They went at him defensively," Calipari said. "I think they may have worn him out."
In 55 combined minutes Poythress and Goodwin scored six points. Odds are that will never happen again – unless the pair of freshmen do not learn from their struggles.
"We weren't doing what we usually do," said UK senior Julius Mays, the only player than Calipari dispatched to the interview room. "I think we came out a little shell-shocked that they came out like they did. They were able to slow us down, and we're more of an up-tempo team."
Point guards are the players who are supposed to make certain the tempo is played at the pace a coach prefers. This game was evidence that Calipari does not have a John Wall, Brandon Knight or Marquis Teague.
Ryan Harrow returned from his four games on the sidelines. He played nine mostly ineffective minutes. Harrow was pulled several times and lectured by Calipari.
"We got ‘em at a good time," Grant said. "I heard Coach Cal calling out a lot of plays. The guys really didn't know where to go. I don't know if they didn't hear him."
Or perhaps they could not hear him. It was unreasonable to expect Kentucky to win this game considering that Notre Dame has not lost any of the 46 November home games it has played during Mike Brey's 13 seasons here.
Georgetown, Louisville, Connecticut, top-ranked Syracuse. Brey finds a way to make good teams wobble in this churning environment. He changes defenses. He makes certain his team controls the tempo. He coaches a veteran team that started a sophomore, two juniors, a senior and a graduate student. It showed.
Don't forget that several members of the 12-0 Notre Dame football team, the one playing in the BCS title game, were parked in the student section not far from the UK bench, where they could participate in the post-game storming of the court.
"I think this year they're a lot younger than they were the last couple of years," Notre Dame center Jack Cooley said. "I know that's weird to say.
"But the last couple of years, they had some guys coming back, just to lead them. When we'd go on our runs, they really didn't have anybody to turn to and help them."
Not in November. But the plan is to have some by February and March.
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