- Eamonn Brennan, ESPN Staff Writer
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Quick thoughts from Notre Dame's 64-50 victory over No. 8 Kentucky, the program's fourth straight win over a top-10 team:
Overview: For the first five minutes, as UK's highly touted young players carved up Notre Dame's less touted veterans, it appeared as if sheer talent might be enough to carry this group through its first true road test as a team. That notion ended quickly and without ceremony. The Irish turned their 3-for-8 shooting in the first five minutes into a tidy 15-for-27 first half, working for good shots and making most of them, all the while containing Kentucky on the other end of the floor.
By the time the half was over, ND led 36-25, and UK looked a bit lost, content to take bad shots, unable to get free on its basic dribble actions, forcing wild shots in a congested lane. The story didn't change in the second half. The Irish opened a 53-35 lead with 11 minutes, 35 seconds remaining thanks to a clock-countdown heave of a 3 from ND guard Jerian Grant. With no offensive burst left in them, and facing a Notre Dame coach whose teams happen to specialize in extending possessions and burning clock, the young Wildcats were essentially done.
Turning point: It would be tempting to look at Alex Poythress' second foul, at the 14:38 mark, when UK held a 12-6 lead, as the game's obvious turning point. It would also be facile. Poythress' absence was noticeable, no doubt, but Notre Dame was simply better for more of the game, including when Poythress was involved. Everything the Irish wanted to do --
pick-and-rolls with Jack Cooley and Eric Atkins, corner 3s for Grant and Cameron Biedscheid -- they did, while Kentucky failed to find anything remotely easy on the other end.
Key player: Atkins. Grant hit big shots, as did Biedscheid, and Cooley led the way on the boards (as usual), but Atkins was the steadiest and most efficient presence for the Irish. He shot 7-of-11 from the field, dicing UK's defense along the way.
Key stat: Kentucky shot 19-of-47 from the field (a season-low 40.4 percent. The Irish were good offensively, and they deserve plenty of credit for physical play on the offensive end, but the obvious key is UK just didn't make any shots. (This was true even of good post moves for Nerlens Noel and Willie Cauley-Stein. UK has some things to work on, but it won't shoot as badly as this again for a while.)
Miscellany: There was a particularly weird moment in the second half when UK guard Julius Mays dribbled the ball off Noel's foot. It immediately went out of bounds ... but no one on the floor but Mays noticed. He stood there, angry, then realized he had a chance to sneak the ball back into play. Notre Dame fans freaked out, the refs turned and saw the play and the ball was called dead. Then the ref reprimanded an ND cheerleader, apparently for yelling at him during the play. It was a thoroughly unusual 30 seconds of basketball. ... In the second half, veteran Irish forward Scott Martin made a nice step-back move on Cauley-Stein that caused the UK forward to turn all the way around. By the time Cauley-Stein recovered, Martin had already sunk his 3-pointer. So much for Notre Dame as the boring utilitarian, huh? ... Ryan Harrow, Kentucky's mysteriously absent guard, shaved his flat-top and got minutes, though they were limited, and he was largely ineffective. Harrow's limits have forced Archie Goodwin into the point guard role, and while Goodwin has handled the transition well to date, he did not look at all comfortable in the Joyce Center. ... In the arena, Notre Dame's black-on-black-on-black uniforms looked pretty awesome. Judging from my Twitter feed, they were not so warmly received on TV. ... According to ESPN Stats & Info, UK's 50 points were its fewest-ever under Calipari and the fourth-fewest of any Kentucky game in the past 15 years. The 14-point loss was also the second-most lopsided in the Calipari era.
What's next: Notre Dame has some time off before a Dec. 8 home game against Brown followed by a Dec. 15 matchup with Purdue. Kentucky, on the other hand, has exactly two days to cure what ails it, as a talented but struggling Baylor team comes to Rupp Arena on Saturday.