- Sunday, January 25 2004 -
Kentucky - 71 (Head Coach: Orlando Smith) - [Ranked 9th by AP and 8th by ESPN/USA Today]
Notre Dame - 63 (Head Coach: Mike Brey) - [Unranked]
Halftime Score: Kentucky 39, Notre Dame 29
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|Tennessee 69 - 68 OT|||||Mississippi 71 - 61|
Game Writeup - Written by and courtesy of Matt May; Kentucky Sports Report, (All Rights Reserved)
Cats warm up frigid South Bend, upend Irish
SOUTH BEND, Ind. - When Kentucky coach Tubby Smith sat down to prepare for Notre Dame, he admitted he was worried about the Irish's size advantage over his smallish post players.
As it turned out, UK turned Smith's fears into happy memories, using superior quickness to maneuver around the post for easy buckets and fouls. Behind Chuck Hayes' 21 points, six rebounds and five assists, UK powered its way to a 71-63 victory in front of 11,418 fans at the Joyce Center on Notre Dame's storied campus.
"We've been harping on that for some time," Smith said of playing aggressive inside. "We got the ball to Chuck when he was in a comfort zone and area to be productive."
Hayes had a 17-point outburst in the second half mainly because his face up ability allowed him to get to the free throw line 10 times against Notre Dame's bigger and slower post players. Time and again, UK went backdoor against the Irish, who were applying a lot of pressure to guards Cliff Hawkins and Gerald Fitch.
"They were pressuring all the passes to the wing," Hayes said. "Coach has taught us since Day One to cut backdoor if they do that."
The plan worked, as UK got 44 points inside the paint despite a down game for Erik Daniels, who had just eight points. The Cats (13-2) had their second-best shooting game in a month by hitting 52.9 percent from the field.
"I thought we played a very clean game," Smith said. "By that I mean we were doing the things we had to do to get the win.
"(The consistency) was probably the best we've had in a long time. We didn't have any extended droughts, no major defensive breakdowns except for boxing out. It was about as complete a game as we've had in awhile."
In sweeping the four-game series, UK picked up its 10th straight victory over the Fighting Irish. More importantly in this game, the Cats shut down Notre Dame star Chris Thomas for the third year in a row.
Thomas scored 16 points, but made just 7-of-20 field goals and 2-of-9 from beyond the arc. With Hawkins hounding him, Thomas missed his first five shots and had two turnovers in the first five minutes of the game. His struggles were summed up by his last shot of the night, a leaner that slammed off the bottom of the backboard with Notre Dame trailing 69-63 in the closing seconds.
Even with Notre Dame's top three players - Thomas, Chris Quinn and Torin Francis - making a combined 11-of-39 from the field and the Irish hitting only 38.7 percent as a team, UK had to hold on in the closing seconds.
Trailing 64-51 with 5:54 left, Notre Dame mounted a comeback bid mainly because of second-chance points. After two Quinn free throws capped a 12-2 spurt to pull the Irish within 66-63 with 1:07 left, Hayes hit one free throw at 44.3 seconds.
Notre Dame's last real hope of pulling off a stunning upset came on the ensuing possession when Quinn threw up a wild airball and Jordan Cornette overshot everything on a point blank putback attempts. The Cats added two more free throws and a Kelenna Azubuike dunk in the final seconds to seal the victory.
"They play the best defense, just as good as any defense that we play against," Thomas said of UK. "They get right into you, they hand check, they grab and they make you take some tough shots. In order for us to get points on the board, we had to look down low or make some bad shots."
On this snowy Sunday in South Bend, Notre Dame didn't make near enough.
Notre Dame's Chris Thomas defends against Chuck Hayes
Antwain Barbour looks for an opening around Colin Falls
Kelenna Azubuike takes flight