Game Preview: Kentucky

Undefeated and 23rd-ranked Notre Dame will take on No. 16 Kentucky tonight in the Big East/SEC Challenge.

No. 23 Notre Dame vs. No. 16 Kentucky

Team Records: Notre Dame (8-0) vs. Kentucky (5-2)

Tip-off: Approximately 9:30 PM (EST) on ESPN . The game follows a 7:00 tip-off between Seton Hall and Arkansas as part of the Big East/SEC Challenge at Freedom Hall in Louisville, Kentucky

Previous Results: Kentucky's two losses occurred vs. national powers Connecticut (84-67 in Maui) and Saturday at North Carolina (75-73). The Wildcats best win to date is a 74-67 triumph over then-No. 11 Washington prior to Thanksgiving. Kentucky also handled Oklahoma, 76-64 in first-round Maui Invitational action.

Stats to boast: Notre Dame has attempted 240 free throws vs. its collective eight opponents' paltry total of 121. As well, the Irish have collected 99 more boards than have their foes over the opening slate.

Early Season Quote to Note: "We have older guys who've been in the system and played in big games. I think that's an advantage for us. Hopefully it is Wednesday in the first true road atmosphere for us (this season)." – Irish head coach Mike Brey on his senior-laden Irish

Series History: It's one-sided, with the Wildcats holding a 41-18 advantage. The Irish prevailed in the most recent meeting, a 77-67postseason NIT tilt in March 2009 at the Joyce Center.

Freedom Hall History: Consider the venue Notre Dame's House of Horrors. Heading into tonight's contest, the Irish are 11-34 all-time playing at Freedom Hall including a 9-23 record against the Wildcats. The Irish have dropped 10 straight in the old building (including seven consecutive to current Big East rival Louisville). Notre Dame's last win at Freedom Hall occurred on December 27, 1980 in a 67-61 decision over then No. 2 Kentucky.

Point Spread: Kentucky -5.5

Notre Dame Starters and Key Contributors

  • Forward: 6'8" 218-pound senior Carleton Scott – Has emerged as both a mid-range (deadly) and long-range (sporadic) scoring threat but true worth has been on the defensive glass…Still a developing weak side shot-blocking presence, swatting exactly half of the team's 34 blocked shots through eight games…Leads the way with 7.8 boards and ranks fourth in scoring at 11 per contest.

  • Forward: 6'8" 235-pound senior Tim Abromaitis – Improved passer and rebounder has been erratic shooting the rock – his calling card as one of the nation's best last season…Second on the team in scoring (15.6) and third in rebounding (6.9) but has missed 57 of his first 92 field goal attempts…Erupted for 25 points to lead the Irish to an opening round win over Georgia on Thanksgiving Evening.

  • Forward: 6'8" 232-pound senior Tyrone Nash – Keys the team's low-post, inside-out approach with quality decision-making and patience…Fights to get to the line early and often where he's improved to hit nearly 73 percent of his free throws after struggling from the 15-foot line over the course of his career…Has an unlikely 50/50 split in free throws and field goals, totaling 100 points over eight games…Leads the squad with 23 offensive rebounds and ranks second to Scott with a 7.0 average.

  • Guard/Forward: 6'8" 219-pound senior Scott Martin – Seemed to gain confidence late in win over Wisconsin, contributing to several key offensive series down the stretch…Still nowhere near his touted potential after sitting out last season with a torn ACL and the previous year due to NCAA transfer rules…Lefty has an old school mid-range game as well as quick vertical leap to contend on the glass…Perfect shooting form but has struggled to percentages of 43/66/21 in seven contests…Also experienced back spasms in mid-November prior…Has 21 points, 12 boards and just 1 turnover in his last two outings.

  • Guard: 6'3" 203-pound senior Ben Hansbrough – Leads the Irish with 15 points and 4 assists per game and has emerged as the lead locker room voice during team's 8-0 start…Has drilled 23 of 42 three-point offerings while running the point early before moving to off-guard over the course of the contest when joined by freshman point Eric Atkins...Pressed a bit vs. quality competition in Old Spice Classic, committing 8 turnovers with just 4 assists.

Key Reserves:

  • Guard: 6'2" 173-pound freshman Eric Atkins – Key to the Irish fortunes early with heady play at the point, committing just 11 turnovers in 213 minutes…Hit clutch late shots vs. both Georgia and Wisconsin, scoring 7 of the team's 20 double-OT points while assisting on another bucket to take down the athletic Bulldogs…Solid early with percentages of 47/78/38 from the field, free throw line and long range.

  • Center/Forward: 6'9" 244-pound sophomore Jack Cooley – Undervalued big man lends passing ability, bulk and the ability to finish at the rim…More effective if he can receive somewhere in the neighborhood of 10 minutes per night but might have to impress early to earn that court time on what is expected to be a short ND bench tonight…Second on the squad with 15 offensive rebounds and five blocked shots despite playing just 89 minutes as the team's distant 7th man.

  • Forward: 6'6" 215-pound sophomore Joey Brooks – Still developing an offensive identity but Brooks' strength and ability to guard multiple positions could come in handy tonight…Establishing trust in the offensive flow still a concern for the coaching staff but Brooks' build is Top 20 caliber…Saw just seven minutes of action in the Old Spice Classic and no time in the title game vs. Wisconsin.

  • Forward: 6'9" 248-pound sophomore Mike Broghammer – Lends an extra physical presence to the front line. Broghammer could help with two boards, two solid screens and a hard foul in 3-4 solid minutes during tonight's first half…Had success in emergency action during Notre Dame's last trip to Freedom Hall, rimming out the potential game-winner at the end of regulation last February, a 91-89 2OT defeat in which four Irish big men fouled out including the then-frosh Broghammer.

Meet the Wildcats

Gone to the professional ranks, though not before a run to the NCAA Elite Eight, are the 2009-10 crop of freshmen stars John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins and Eric Bledsoe. In their stead step Terrence Jones, Brandon Knight, and Doron Lamb, and though the transaction wasn't even in terms of overall talent, there's no shortage of potential with this new crop of UK first-years.

Jones, despite his rough day in the post vs. North Carolina's Tyler Zeller last Saturday (3-17 FG) is the best freshman in the country. At 6'8" 255 pounds, the Portland, Oregon product is an imposing presence inside and a tricky cover because of his ability to face-up and get to the basket.

Lamb was the Wildcats best player Saturday in a tremendous college basketball game in Chapel Hill, pouring in 24 points off the bench, playing 32 minutes without committing a turnover. He's been efficient over his first seven college outings, posting 13 points per game with a 1.67 assist-to-turnover ratio and connecting on better than 52 percent of his field goal attempts. A judicious three-point shooter, Lamb has hit 14 of his first 24 attempts from beyond the arc.

Knight has three 20-point games to his credit but has suffered 33 turnovers vs. 24 assists while playing more than 33 minutes per night. The young ‘Cats have just 91 assists vs. 82 team turnovers through seven games.

Junior swingmen Darius Miller and DeAndre Liggins will also see significant time.

"Our areas we need to get better at, within the team, and how we play, are very easy to see," head coach John Calipari stated. "We talk about trust, having a respect for each other's games and knowing a month from now is not what we're going to look like."

Those areas: ball security, shot-selection, defensive intensity over 40 minutes, and accountability will come in due time.

Notre Dame possesses each in spades; the Irish, however, cannot match their host's athleticism or basketball skill level. Kentucky will drive, dunk, destroy one-on-one matchups, and smack shots into the stands. They'll create some turnovers and beat the Irish down the floor.

And if this game is rematched in March, the squad in Blue and White would bear little resemblance to the one Irish fans will see tonight.

Notre Dame, on the other hand, knows what it has. The six-to-seven man rotation will play together and hard for 40 minutes. They trust each other offensively, defend as a nearly interchangeable unit, find a way to get to the free throw line, and scrap for every missed shot on both sides of the floor.

The purported "neutral" crowd will heavily favor the Wildcats. SportsCenter highlights certainly will as well. Just not the last one.

Nearly 30 years of Freedom Hall frustration ends tonight:

Prediction: Notre Dame 74 Kentucky 70


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