Preview: Kentucky

No. 2 Notre Dame (20-14) will play No. 4 Kentucky (22-13) tonight in the quarterfinals of the NIT. The winner of the game will play No. 2 Penn State in New York in next week's NIT Final Four. The game can be seen at 7 p.m. on ESPN2.

As Notre Dame watched Monday's NIT second round game between Creighton and Kentucky, the Irish were not impartial observers.

No. 4 Kentucky won 65-63, giving No. 2 Notre Dame a home game for the quarterfinals on Wednesday instead of the Irish having to travel to top-seeded Creighton.

"I was trying to rally the spirit of Adolph Rupp throughout the night because I didn't really want to go over to Midway and go to Omaha, quite frankly," Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey said. "We're thrilled that we get to play again in front of our home crowd. I think we'll have a great crowd for it."

Senior Zach Hillesland may have been even happier than his coach.

"We were flying commercial and I wasn't looking forward to that," said Hillesland. "So we get to stay here and get another game at home."

But now the Irish have to deal with the Wildcats (22-13), who have more talent than any team that Notre Dame (20-14) has played so far in the NIT.

"Playing a very athletic Kentucky team that can really get out and physically defends you and throws the ball into the paint a little bit like Pittsburgh does," said Brey. "They're really a good basketball team and they present some of the problems that Big East teams have presented for us, long, athletic guys."

Kentucky is led by the inside-outside combination of junior guard Jodie Meeks and sophomore forward Patrick Patterson. Meeks averages 23.8 points per game and has gone for 45, 46 and 54 points this year while Patterson averages 17.9 points and 9.4 rebounds per contest.

"They're a very athletic team with a lot of length inside and you have to worry about Jodie Meeks on the outside going off for about 40 too, so that's always a big deal," Notre Dame's Luke Harangody said.

Brey tried to recruit Meeks to Notre Dame.

"We recruited the heck out of him, did a home visit. Maybe the best dinner I ever had on a home visit was the barbecue at Jodie Meeks' house," said Brey. "Then Kentucky came in the next week and snatched him."

Brey knew that Meeks would be a good player, but has been impressed with his numbers this year.

"I'm really proud of his career. He's a great kid, he loved the game, he was a basketball junkie," said Brey. "You knew he was just going to get better and better, but watching some of the stuff he's done this year staggers me and we've got to be very aware of him because he can go off and get 40."

Brey hopes that his team will have an advantage by being off since Thursday while the Wildcats had to fly to South Bend from Omaha after Monday night's game.

"I hope it's a big advantage. We've done a good job when we've had this gap to get our legs under us a little bit and rest," said Brey. "We've been ready to play even after the layoff. We certainly are going to talk about it as an advantage and try and get out of the gate and running."

The Irish feel fortunate to still be playing.

"Last year at this time we weren't playing, our season was over. Now you're looking around at a lot of teams that we played this year and gone to the tournament that are now home," said Hillesland. "Certainly we would have like to be in the NCAA Tournament, but the fact is we get to come and play and enjoy each other's company and try and win more games."

A win over Kentucky will place the Irish into next week's NIT Final Four at Madison Square Garden against No. 2 Penn State. The Nittany Lions (25-11) defeated No. 1 Florida 71-62 in a quarterfinal game on Tuesday.

"Our goal at the beginning of this thing was to get back to New York and we're one step away," said Kyle McAlarney.

McAlarney and Hillesland along with seniors Ryan Ayers and Luke Zeller played their last three home games with the knowledge that any of them could have been their last in the Joyce Center, but they now know that Wednesday's game will be their final home contest.

"It's really no different at all. I think the emotions will set in when the game ends," said McAlarney. "I've been through the whole last game at home thing, this will be my fourth time now, so I'm prepared for that."

Harangody, who could declare for the NBA Draft after the season, said that he has not given any thought to the idea that this could be his last game at the Joyce.

"I haven't really thought about that. I thought about the seniors and sure you have to think about that. But I haven't really gotten the thought process on what I'm going to do yet, so that hasn't really played a role," he said. "When the season is all over I'm going to sit down with Coach and just talk things out."

The game will also be the final game at the Joyce before renovations for the arena, which opened in 1968, are completed. Notre Dame officials are treating it as a true sendoff with the motto ‘Party Like It's 1968.'

"I think it's exciting that UCLA opened this building in 1968 and a program like Kentucky's will close it tomorrow," said Brey. Top Stories