Copyright by Global Electronics Telecommunications, publishers of IrishEyes.Com™
January 19, 2002
Spook Thin Irish
By Alan Tieuli
The IrishEyes.Com News Service
NOTRE DAME, Ind. (IE) – If basketball was played eight-on-eight, Kentucky would beat Notre Dame 99 times out of 100.
Fortunately for the Irish, Dr. Naismith designed this great game to be competed five aside. So the hosts had a slightly better chance Saturday afternoon at the sold-out Joyce Center. To improve its odds even more, it was imperative for all five of Notre Dame's starters to have the endurance of Lance Armstrong.
They didn't, and the Irish reserves, predictably, were lacking against the best competition they've faced this season. No. 12 Kentucky came as advertised – long, athletic and deep. The result was a "deflating" 72-65 defeat for Notre Dame, now 5-5 in its last 10 games.
"We gave ourselves a chance," said head coach Mike Brey, whose team is 12-5 overall and losers of two straight to ranked teams on national television. "But they just kept coming at us with fresh bodies. I wonder if they clone them down there."
Kentucky, 12-4 and a true national championship contender, received a game-high 23 points from junior guard Keith Bogans. But where these two differ is the bench. Kentucky received 23 points and 12 rebounds in 56 minutes from four key reserves. Notre Dame could only counter with five points and seven rebounds in 30 minutes from Jordan Cornette, Torrian Jones, Jere Macura and Chris Markwood.
"It definitely affects us," freshman point guard Chris Thomas told IrishEyes quietly later. "No matter who you are, you need to take a break."
The Wildcats allowed no breaks on this day. The final difference was seven points, and here they are:
- In the first-half, 12 minutes remaining, there is a loose ball near midcourt, right in front of the press table. Macura has two steps on the nearest Wildcat, yet his lack of footspeed precludes him from securing the ball. Kentucky not only grabs the loose Wilson, but it triggers a possession that ends in an Erik Daniels three-point jumper.
- Still in the first-half, 1:40 remaining. Cornette, after a nice put-back basket, misses a free throw. Guard Cliff Hawkins scores on a quick transition lay-up off the miss. He then applies pressure on Markwood – subbing briefly for Thomas at the point – bringing the ball up the court. Hawkins picks Markwood cleanly at midcourt, and strolls in for an uncontested lay-up.
Three points in the first scenario, four in the second. Next question?
"When we get on a roll, something small interferes," said Thomas. "As a team we take things for granted like loose balls."
"With depth like we have," Kentucky coach Tubby Smith told IrishEyes, "it's more than the games. It's practice as well. We go good-on-good."
Notre Dame never recovered from the Markwood miscue. Brey tried to steal a couple of minutes near the end of the half with a quintet of Markwood, Jones, Cornette, Matt Carroll, and Ryan Humphrey. It was 32-31 when that group entered, 38-33 Kentucky when they left. It was 41-35 Kentucky at the half, and Notre Dame never led the final 20 minutes, closing only once within two.
"Miss a free throw, then they pick our pocket at halfcourt, that's deflating right there," admitted Brey. "Instead of going in (to half) one possession (down) or, tied…it's a little deflating the way it ended. Chris Markwood was playing against a pretty good defender there."
Hawkins' defense in the backcourt also befuddled Thomas. The wunderkind made just four-of-15 shots and is now in a prolonged shooting slump, 18-for-67 (27-percent) in his last five games.
"Our expectations are really high for (Thomas), but his expectations are higher," said Brey. "I don't want him down. I'm not down on him. I love him. If he needs a massage tonight, I'll be there to give it for him. We got the Hoyas Monday and he's probably going 40."
Thomas is feeling the strain a bit. His body language on the court spoke volumes and he quickly departed from the post-game interview room, asking basketball sports information director Bernie Cafarelli to intercede on a follow-up interview request.
Notre Dame should be protective of Thomas. It's obvious he is the program's meal ticket. It will take Brey at least one more bumper recruiting crop to be able to compete at the same level as Kentucky. There are two more years left in this rivalry, let's see what type of progress the Irish can make.
Unfortunately, the two Irish Kentuckians – David Graves and Harold Swanagan – won't be able to get a shot at revenge against the Blue and White. The seniors finish their ND careers 0-2 against Kentucky and neither had an impact in this game. Graves had 12 points, but six came on a pair of three-point shots in the last minute, making what should have been a double-digit loss more respectable. Swanagan is still ailing with a twisted ankle and had just two points and five rebounds in 23 minutes.
"Harold Swanagan is still getting healthy and he's our best screener," said Brey. "He's not quite moving so great. That is what we are missing."
Junior guard Matt Carroll kept the Irish in the game early, however, scoring 13 points on five-for-six shooting in the first nine minutes to propel Notre Dame to an 18-14 lead. The sold-out, green-clad Joyce Center crowd loved it.
But Brey subbed out Carroll for 70 seconds – "His arm was probably tired," laughed Smith – and the Pennsylvania sharpshooter never got back into a rhythm. He only scored five points in the final 30 minutes and the Irish were rudderless.
"I thought we made a more conscious effort on him after that burst," said Smith.
Smith also knew that his long frontline, particularly Tayshaun Prince and Jules Camara, would give Humphrey fits.
"We wanted him to shoot over us," said Smith. "He was rushing it because he had to shoot over people."
Humphrey, who had 28 Monday at Syracuse, had just 14 points on this afternoon. But his effort couldn't be questioned. He pounded inside for eight offensive rebounds and helped the Irish outrebound Kentucky overall, 40-37. That is a positive.
Another is that the Irish held Prince, a legitimate All-American and NBA first-round candidate, to three-of-12 shooting. The problem was no-one could match up with Bogans on the perimeter.
"Everyone was Tayshaun, Tayshaun, Tayshaun before the game," said Graves. "But they have so much more."
How much? Well, Marquis Estill (nine points in 17 minutes) is not even a scholarship player. He relinquished his scholarship in June so the Wildcats could bring in three blue-chip freshmen. The Kentucky team you saw Saturday also was missing outstanding senior guard J.P. Blevins, who broke his wrist versus Indiana in December.
That is why Brey, when meeting with East Coast friends after the game just outside his office, said genuinely "We gave ourselves a chance."
THE NOTEBOOK: Humphrey was moved when he saw students lined up outside Gate 11 when the team was headed to 9 a.m. Mass. "We wanted to do well for them," said Humphrey. "To see them supporting us like this, in this cold waiting outside, that's impressive."…….Cornette looks more and more like he is going to be the back-up to Swanagan. He played 10 confident minutes, securing three rebounds. He was quickly winded however……"You got to flush this and move on," said Brey. "One good thing, Georgetown on Monday night will be similar. We might not even watch film on them (Sunday)."……Notre Dame went 1-2 in its three-game stretch against ranked teams. The Irish last played three straight ranked opponents in the Matt Doherty year, losing to No. 9 Arizona, No. 22 Maryland and No. 23 Indiana consecutively……There are tickets available for Georgetown on Monday, and it becomes a critical game for the Irish. A victory would keep Notre Dame within striking distance of the top of the West Division standings in the Big East. A loss and doubts might start to creep in. "We're a mentally tough team," said Carroll. "We'll keep it going."……Smith exited his post-game interview with aplomb. "It's my first time being at Notre Dame, and you all are classy folks," he said. "Thank you all."……ND is now 0-2 against SEC competition this year. Kentucky is clearly better than Alabama, in this view……Thomas has made just 11 of his last 42 three-point shots. "We have to keep him in an attack frame of mind," said Brey. " I thought maybe at times today, to his credit, that he tried to get us going with a quick three-point shot when it wasn't there."
(Alan Tieuli is the Managing Editor of IrishEyes and can be reached at email@example.com)