Irish 101

Notre Dame gave 8th-ranked, youth-filled Kentucky a crash course regarding major college basketball road tests Tuesday night, winning handily in South Bend, 64-50.

"This wasn't two teams really battling, and Notre Dame wins. That's not what happened. This was Notre Dame throwing around Kentucky and winning by as many as they needed to win by."

Kentucky head coach John Calipari's post-game comment above was as telling as those of his counterpart Mike Brey following the latter's 14-point victory Tuesday at the Purcell Pavilion.

"It was interesting to hear people around the country," said Brey. "We didn't look at it as an upset. We just feel we have a team that's played together and could get into our rhythm against a very talented young group."

Facing the only team in college basketball not to return a player with starting experience, the Irish led by as many as 20, 55-35, and maintained at least a 10-point advantage for the final 23:05 of the contest beginning with an Eric Atkins jump shot that extended the host's lead to 31-21 with 3:05 remaining in the opening half.

Notre Dame had trailed 12-6 early with Atkins accounting for all six of his team's points as his teammates scuffled to an 0-5 shooting start. Thereafter the Irish, led by Atkins and backcourt mate Jerian Grant, took control, embarking on a 21-6 run with Grant assisting on four buckets including a pair of three-pointers and Atkins scoring seven more before intermission.

It was par for the course for Brey's bunch that's prevailed in 41 of its last 42 home games including 20 consecutive vs. conference foes.

"We're good here. We're really confident here, it's beautiful to watch," said Brey. "The way our guards were controlling things you didn't have to do a lot of coaching. Those guys were coaching the team. When you have a veteran back court doing that, I don't want to get in their way too much."

Kentucky lacked just that, with Notre Dame not only playing better today, but likely possessing a better backcourt for the grind of the ensuing months.

"Its tough when you have one true point guard that has to dribble the ball the whole game, so me being that second point guard is definitely going to be big for our team throughout the whole season," said Grant, who paced the Irish with six assists to go along with 13 points.

Defensive Presence

While Grant and Atkins ran the show it was the team's defensive focus that ensured a healthy final margin.

"It was really just walling up on their drives and trying to get a chest on them on their drives so they'd have to make harder passes off of penetration," said freshman swingman Cameron Biedscheid who chipped in 10 off the bench. "We really tried to get through the dribble handoffs and all the ball screens and be in the right spot in our rotations. Be engaged and alert at all times."

"Our defense is what we hang our hat on," Grant added. "Getting out on shooters, rebounding, and when we run, getting it to open shooters or getting in the lane."

Notre Dame held the Wildcats to 4 of 14 from long range and 50 points; 25 in both halves. Kentucky came in hitting at a 46 percent clip from long range, never scoring fewer than 68, that in a seven-point loss to Duke.

"It's tough coaching new teams every year," Calipari lamented post-game of his three freshmen starting five. "It's part of what we have to deal with. We're learning about our team and like I said, I didn't expect us to come in here and play out of our minds. I hoped we would have competed. I thought at least against Duke (a 75-68 loss), we competed. We battled."

"The environment may have hit them in the head."

The environment, veteran focus and resolve, and at present, a better basketball team.

"I'm glad we played them now, because they're really young and talented and they're going to be better in January and February," said Brey of the defending champs. "We really prepared like an experienced team the last two days and I thought we played like an experienced group. Defended excellent for 40 minutes and got into our offensive rhythm when we really needed to."

Aiding the cause was all Big East performer Jack Cooley with 13 points and 11 rebounds. Cooley won the battle with future lottery pick Nerlens Noel (10 points, 7 boards) and likely NBA'er Willie Cauley-Stein (6 points, 1 board), a pair of imposing 7-footers ranked first and fifteenth among 2012 centers according to FOX Sports NEXT.

"It was obvious they needed help today," said Calipari of his youth-filled roster. "And obviously they didn't get it from me. We weren't very good."

Brey's veterans were. They always are in South Bend.

The next step is to repeat the effort in Indianapolis next month vs. Purdue and more often than not away from home during conference play.


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