Sunday, January 19, 2003
No. 16 Kentucky 88, No. 10 Notre Dame 73
Team play key to Wildcat victory
By Neil Schmidt
The Cincinnati Enquirer
LEXINGTON - Notre Dame coach Mike Brey talked Saturday evening about Kentucky having found its identity in the past two weeks.
Kentucky's Chuck Hayes blocks a shot attempt by Notre Dame's Torin Francis.
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What that appears to be is a balanced, ball-hawking, bullying bunch. More than anything, it's the furthest thing from Team Turmoil.
Senior Keith Bogans laughed when, after UK's 88-73 victory over 10th-ranked Notre Dame, he was asked to assess this team's chemistry.
"It's a whole different team than last year," he said.
The 16th-ranked Wildcats (13-3) extended their winning streak to seven with their most impressive outing of the season.
They dominated inside, with their three starting big men combining for 60 points, 30 rebounds, 11 assists and seven blocks. They played smart, with 19 assists and just nine turnovers - tying a season low. They played pesky, harassing Irish point guard Chris Thomas into 4-of-17 shooting and nine turnovers and held Notre Dame (14-3) to 34.4 percent shooting.
The Wildcats played like a team.
"The team chemistry is good right now," UK junior guard Cliff Hawkins said. "We're really playing well together, and we just need to keep it going."
The story Saturday was the Wildcats' dominance inside, as they totaled 54 points in the paint to Notre Dame's 20.
Sophomore forward Chuck Hayes had the finest game of his career, totaling career highs in points (17), rebounds (16), blocks (three) and assists (five, tying his best).
Senior center Marquis Estill scored 14 of his 18 points in the second half and added eight rebounds. Junior forward Erik Daniels, a Princeton High graduate, added 15 points and six rebounds.
"That's the best team we've played, and we've played a heck of a schedule," Brey said. "They have big guys with a great basketball feel.
"... It's the number of bodies they come at you with where they are different from a Texas, Maryland, Marquette or anyone else we've played. Coach (Tubby) Smith does a great job of running them in and out."
The Irish have talented but inexperienced post players, and UK perhaps created an intimidation factor with numerous early blocked shots.
"To find yourself right at the rim and then have the ball blocked, that's the most demoralizing play in basketball," Smith said.
UK's most significant change in the past week has been an invigorated defense.
The Wildcats had been victimized earlier this season in their half-court defense. Entering their game last Saturday, they were allowing 43.9 percent shooting - on pace to be their worst defensive percentage in 11 seasons.
Yet they have held their past three foes - South Carolina, Vanderbilt and Notre Dame - to a combined 36.9 percent shooting. The turnaround is most pronounced in the past three halves, when opponents shot just 32.1 percent with 26 turnovers.
That has coincided with Hawkins' most significant minutes of the season. He and Gerald Fitch tag-teamed Thomas on Saturday, and the results were similar to last season, when Hawkins hounded Thomas into 4-of-15 shooting and four turnovers.
"Whatever Cliff does sets the tone," Daniels said. "He got Thomas out of his game early."
Cutting off Thomas at the point of attack was merely a prelude to what other Irish players found on the wing and inside.
"We couldn't get an open look," Brey said.
Smith used a seven-player rotation in the second half until the game's final minutes, sprinkling in Hawkins and Jules Camara with the starters.
"We've got to put the best players on the floor when the game is being decided," Smith said.
The downside of this is that supposed impact newcomers Antwain Barbour and Kelenna Azubuike essentially have fallen out of the rotation.
Saturday marked UK's ninth consecutive victory in this series.
Jordan Cornette, a Notre Dame sophomore forward from St. Xavier High, didn't score but had five rebounds and one blocked shot.
UK is 7-0 all time against the Irish in Rupp Arena.
Team rebounds - 4.
Team rebounds - 2.
3-pointers - ND 6-19 (Thomas 2-8, Carroll 3-6, Miller 1-4, Quinn 0-1), UK 2-9 (Fitch 1-4, Bogans 1-3, Estill 0-1, LeMaster 0-1). Officials - Burr, Greene, Poole. A - 22,778.
UC 77, Tulane 54
UC notebook: Flowers uses his time wisely
Xavier 86, UMass 73
OTHER COLLEGE BASKETBALL
No. 16 Kentucky 88, No. 10 Notre Dame 73
Short benching at Vandy motivates Hayes to play
No. 18 Indiana 84, No. 8 Illinois 66
No. 15 Louisville 87, TCU 74
Miami 77, Ohio 65
No. 17 Maryland 87, No. 1 Duke 72
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