Defense is a wonderful thing. A fact it took the 'Cats one half of basketball to fully realize.
After allowing the #23 Notre Dame Fighting Irish (8-1) to shoot 56% from the field in the first half (14-25 from the floor; 5-10 threes), mostly due to the dead-eye marksmanship of Irish guard Ben Hansbrough (who made all five of Notre Dame's first half three-pointers on his way to 19 first half points), the 'Cats dropped the defensive hammer on Touchdown Jesus in the second half, holding the Irish to only 20.0% field goal shooting (6-30 field goals; 1-13 three-pointers). And although the 'Cats can best be described as scuffling offensively (unless ones name is Jones, Terrence Jones) for most of the contest (23-57; 40.4%), on this night, they were efficient enough with their scoring (9-24 threes; 37.5%) and ferocious enough with their second half D (ND went about three-hours without a field goal), to pull out the 72-58 victory.
For the game particulars, follow me after the jump:
Well, Terrence Jones more than made amends for his less-than-stellar outing against North Carolina on Saturday, with 27 points (9-18 from the field, 7-10 free throws, 2-5 trifectas) and 17 rebounds in his Freedom Hall collegiate debut (assuming, hoping he plays in the hallowed blue hall again). He was active, both defensively (he covered the hot-shooting ball park hot dog, Ben Hansbrough, for a portion of the second half, helping hold the Oscar Meyer impersonator to zero second stanza field goals) and offensively, where he made shots in the paint, on the wing, and from long-range. Jones worked the paint like he owned it for much of the game, not allowing the physicality of the Irish big men to intimidate him. He also hit the biggest shot of the night: With UK clinging to a 57-53 lead with 4:33 remaining, Jones elevated from the corner and nailed a three, effectively taking the wind out of the Irish sails. And finally, Jones' play is a big reason UK didn't lose the points in the paint battle (18-18), as they have done so often on the year. Jones summed up quite nicely (after the game) the mindset of the team coming into the contest, "No way we were going to lose coming off a loss." Now, that's what all UK fans like to hear.
Brandon Knight's 20 points (7-17 field goals; 2-6 threes; 4-4 free throws), four rebounds, and five assists (only two turnovers) in 39 minutes tell only part of the story of his night. For Knight seems to be growing into the point guard position, as he ran the club tonight with aplomb; directing traffic, controlling tempo, and being the leader the lead guard needs to be. And oh, by the way, he also helped out in putting the kibosh on Hansbrough in the second half. This game was probably Knight's most complete game as a 'Cat.
Josh Harrellson, who played 20 minutes, scored no points, but he did grab nine rebounds (four offensive). Harrellson didn't run the floor as he should a couple of times, earning the ire of the raspy voiced John Calipari -- Raspy because he yelled for two straight hours -- but his overall effort and rebounding determination were a large reason the 'Cats are able to at least hold their own on the backboard. NOTE: UK, who won the rebounding battle 42-34, is the first team to out-rebound the Irish on the year.
Darius Miller played an uneven offensive game (and really who didn't, except Jones, Terrence Jones), contributing seven points on 1-5 shooting. Miller missed a couple of shots in the lane he usually makes, but he converted 4-6 free throws (UK made 17-22 free throws for the game; 77.3%), grabbed five rebounds and dished out two assists. Miller's game tonight, was what we are coming to expect from him.
DeAndre Liggins (six points) must have had something else on his mind tonight other than rebounding. Perhaps his mind was on stopping Ben Hansbrough (something he had a hand in, in the second half) instead of rebounding the basketball, because my man Ligs had exactly one board for the game. He did make 2-4 three-pointers, though. And on this night, UK needed all the offense it could get.
Doron Lamb followed up his 24 point performance against UNC with only six points tonight (0-5 three-pointers). Lamb, while not "on" from the floor, played some very solid defense on fellow rookie guard Eric Atkins, and he even lent his defensive ability in helping guard Hansbrough in the second half (did I mention all Hansbrough needs is a bun and mustard, and you could serve him up at your next cookout).
Stacey Poole and Jon Hood both saw game action tonight, with both players making a three-pointer, which should lift both players' confidence level going forward.
Eloy Vargas played nine minutes, didn't score, but had one board and one steal.
The 'Cats, after being down 38-27 with 4:44 left in the first half, drubbed the Irish 45-20 the rest of the way. It wasn't pretty, but it was a win. And one more thing -- Hey Ben, check out the scoreboard on your way out of the arena.
Next, the Indiana Hoosiers invade Rupp Arena to take on UK (6-2). Game time is Saturday @ 5:30.
Thanks for reading and Go 'Cats!