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November 26, 2012

Irish sharp in Kentucky warm-up

NOTRE DAME, Ind. - As far as warm-ups for defending national champion Kentucky go, Monday night's 92-65 blowout of Chicago State will do.

Notre Dame (6-1) hit a season-high 12 three-pointers during the Purcell Pavilion demolition in what amounted to a warm-up for Thursday's primetime showdown with the Wildcats. Three different Irish players notched double-doubles in Jerian Grant (22 points, 10 assists), Eric Atkins (13 points, 11 assists) and Jack Cooley (11 points, 11 rebounds).

Garrick Sherman gave the Irish 12 points off the bench.

Instead of sleep-walking past Chicago State (1-6), its only win against a Division III program, Notre Dame showed enough offensive efficiency to notch a season-high 26 assists.

"I hope that carries over to Thursday," said head coach Mike Brey. "I thought our offensive rhythm was good tonight. That's something we're gonna need not only Thursday, but down the road. Loved how we shared the ball, moved it around."

The Irish shot 12-of-22 from distance, blowing the game open midway through the first half with a 14-4 run that installed a permanent working margin into the box score. Notre Dame led 51-32 at the break, then mounted an 18-0 run early in the second half. That blast put the Irish up 78-47, fueled by five points, two assists and one steal from Atkins.

On back-to-back possessions Atkins found a cutting Sherman for lay-ups.

Notre Dame put six players in double-figures, the starting lineup plus reserve forward Garrick Sherman (12 points). Freshman Cam Biedscheid finished with nine points on 3-of-5 shooting from three-point range.

"I think we really got our offensive game going," Atkins said. "We were really sharing the ball well, getting everybody involved. In practice for the last couple days we've been talking about letting this game really get it started for Thursday night. That was our mindset and I think we did a good job."

The look-ahead factor may have worked in Notre Dame's favor against Chicago State considering the Irish haven't shot well from three-point range or even the foul line. Notre Dame went 11-of-24 from the foul line in its last two home blowouts. It went 8-of-11 against Chicago State.

Monday also marked the first time Notre Dame has made more than half its three-point attempts all season. Five different players hit at least a pair of triples.

"People have confidence to catch and shoot now, that's going to help us," Grant said.

Notre Dame has pitched the Kentucky game as a blackout inside Purcell Pavilion, although blue figures to be a predominant color too considering how well the Wildcat fans travel. Even with all five starters gone from last season's title team, Notre Dame still sees Kentucky as the defending champs.

"It's a statement game," Grant said. "They've got a bunch of NBA guys on the team, they're a Top 5 team. Regardless if they have a new team, they're still really, really good.

"We have a really talented team too. With our talent, with our team chemistry, I think we're ready to play.

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