Kentucky appears to be a bit down from their typical level of play, as the loss to the Irish pushes their record to 1-4 on the season. But for an Irish team whose only win until now came against Detroit Mercy, this was a nice, small momentum-shifter for the season — especially after the Irish crumbled down the stretch of a very winnable game against #22 Ohio State last week, and almost did so again in this one.
The Irish were paced in scoring by Nate Laszewski, who finished with 21 points to go along with 9 rebounds. Prentiss Hubb definitely didn’t play his best basketball on the day, but his 18 points were absolutely critical, considering he scored 9 of the Irish’s final 11 points to hold on with the narrowest of margins. Dane Goodwin also added 9 points, and Cormac Ryan chipped in 6 points, 8 rebounds, and 4 assists.
In what’s become an out-of-character habit for the Irish this season, ND won the rebounding battle (34 to 30) but not the turnover battle yet again, as they turned it over 16 times in this one, driven by a very sloppy second half. The Irish shot 44% from the field and 33% from long range while hitting 11-of-12 free throws.
The Wildcats jumped out to a small early lead of 4-0 through the first minute of the game, but the story of the first half was otherwise ALL Irish. After those first two Kentucky buckets, the Irish rattled off a 33-5 run over the course of 10 minutes, including a 19-0 run that was finally broken by a Terrence Clarke jumper at the 9:10 mark.
ND held a solid lead throughout the remaining 9 minutes of the first half, taking a 48-26 score into halftime.
This is the largest halftime Home deficit in Kentucky basketball history— Matt Jones (@KySportsRadio) December 12, 2020
In that scorching-hot first half, the Irish shot 59% from the field and 55% from deep (6-for-11), with 7 of 8 players scoring and Nate Laszewski leading the way with 19 points and 6 rebounds at the intermission.
The second half looked like a completely different ballgame, though.
Kentucky chipped away at the Irish lead as ND went ice-cold, and the Wildcats held the Irish to just 5 points in the first 13 minutes of the half, whittling the deficit down to as little as 4 multiple times during that span, including going on a 16-0 run at one point.
#NotreDame went 9:24 between baskets and had five turnovers. Kentucky run was 16-0. Irish up 55-49 with 6:38 left— Tom Noie (@tnoieNDI) December 12, 2020
With about 4 minutes to play, Prentiss Hubb finally knocked down the Irish’s first three-pointer of the half (after missing their first 8), and then a Juwan Durham dunk extended the Notre Dame lead back to 9 with 3:21 to go.
Kentucky refused to go away, though, driving the score closer and closer with a full-court press that SUPREMELY bothered the Irish, forcing various turnovers to go along with the poor shooting ND turned in all half. After Olivier Sarr hit a jumper to make it a 64-63 game with about 40 seconds to go, the Irish came down and had a disgustingly bad possession, with Hubb dribbling the clock down until he air-balled a three and ND received a shot clock violation.
The Wildcats thus had one shot to win it, but Sarr missed a jumper from the baseline and time ran out before Kentucky could get their put-back shot off. Thus, the Irish escaped with the win despite a ghastly second half performance.
Kentucky finished the game having shot 44% from the field and 22% (5-of-23) from three. Olivier Sarr, a transfer the Irish are quite familiar with due to his prior time at Wake Forest, led his team in scoring with 22 points (11-of-16 shooting) while adding 7 rebounds and 3 blocks as well. Additional nice games, especially in the second half, were contributed by Brandon Boston Jr. (14 points, 4 rebounds, 3 steals) and Terrence Clark (14 points, 3 assists).
The Irish, 2-2 after this win, will now go home and host the #10 Duke Blue Devils on Wednesday, 12/16 at 9 PM ET before traveling down to Indianapolis to face Purdue a week from today in the Crossroads Classic.