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November 29, 2012

Preview: Kentucky @ Notre Dame

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Head coach: John Calipari (4th year at Kentucky) - 551-155 in 21st year as head coach: 193-71 in eight years at Massachusetts; 252-69 in nine years at Memphis; 106-15 in fourth year at Kentucky. Took UMass to Sweet 16 (1991-92), Elite Eight (1994-95) and Final Four (1995-96). Twice took Memphis to Elite Eight (2005-06, 2006-07). Took Kentucky to the Elite Eight (2009-10), the Final Four (2010-11) and the NCAA Championship (2001-12).

You should know: That Adolph Rupp coached Kentucky for 41 seasons - from 1930-72 - winning 876 games and losing 190. He won four national championships, made trips to two other Final Fours, and won 28 conference championships. In 41 seasons, Rupp had double-figure losses just twice -10 in 1964-65 and 13 in 1966-67…Anthony Davis had a mighty good 2011-12. He was National Player of the Year, Final Four Most Outstanding Player, a national champion, the No. 1 NBA pick and an Olympic gold medalist…Michael Kidd-Gilchrist was the No. 2 overall pick in the draft, Terrence Jones was the 18th selection of the first round, and Marcus Teague went 29th. Darius Miller and Doron Lamb were chosen in the second round…Heading into tonight’s game, Notre Dame has 258 career starts among six players; Kentucky has 30 - 10 by senior guard Julius Mays…This will be the 61st meeting between Notre Dame and Kentucky, but just the 14th at Notre Dame. The Wildcats hold a 42-18 advantage in the series, including victories in 11 of the last 12. The last time the Irish defeated Kentucky was on March 25, 2009, when Notre Dame claimed a 77-67 victory over the Wildcats in the NIT…The Wildcats opened the 2012-13 season with a 72-69 victory over Maryland in Brooklyn, followed by a 75-68 loss to Duke in Atlanta. Kentucky trailed the Blue Devils by 14 with nine-and-a-half minutes remaining, but cut it to three before losing. The Wildcats have since won 101-49 over Lafayette, 81-70 over Morehead State and 104-75 over LIU Brooklyn…Kentucky averages 85.2 points per game and is shooting .558 from the field, including .462 from three-point range.

Top losses: Anthony Davis (14.2 ppg., 10.4 rpg., 4.7 bpg.), Terrence Jones (12.3 ppg., 7.2 rpg., 1.8 bpg.), Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (11.9 ppg., 7.4 rpg.), Doron Lamb (13.7 ppg.), Darius Miller (9.9 ppg.), Marquis Teague (10.0 ppg., 4.8 apg.).

Archie Goodwin

Top players: A pair of freshmen lead the Wildcats with four playing a significant role among the top seven in the rotation. Archie Goodwin, a 6-foot-4 freshman, is averaging 19.0 points, 5.2 rebounds and 4.4 assists. He scored 28 vs. Morehead State, and 16 versus Maryland and Duke. Goodwin leads the team in playing time at 34.2 minutes per game.

Alex Polythress, a 6-foot-7 freshman power forward, is right behind Goodwin with an 18.4 scoring average. He’s also rebounding at a 7.4 clip. Polythress scored 22 points against Lafayette and LIU Brooklyn, and 20 versus Duke and Morehead State. He combined with Goodman to hit on 20-of-25 free throws in the surprisingly hard-fought victory over Morehead State.

Kyle Wiltjer, a 6-foot-10 sophomore, contributed 5.0 points in 11-and-a-half minutes per game last year. He’s scoring at a 12.6-point clip this season with 4.2 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game. Wiltjer has twice as many three-pointers made (14) as the No. 2 man on the team - 6-foot-2 senior Julius Mays. Mays, a transfer from Wright State, is second behind Goodwin in minutes (33.0) and scores at a 9.0 pace. He also is tied with Goodwin for the team-lead in assists at 4.4. Mays had 15 points and six assists against LIU Brooklyn.

Kentucky offers a dynamic freshman duo at center - 6-foot-10 Nerlens Noel and 7-foot-0 Willie Cauley-Stein. Noel, generally consider the top freshman in the country coming into the 2012-13 season, is off to a solid start at 12.4 points and 8.6 rebounds per game. He scored 18 points and grabbed eight rebounds in the Wildcats’ last game against LIU Brooklyn, and had 16 points and eight rebounds against Duke.

Cauley-Stein, the former wide receiver, is slowly adapting his athleticism to the hardwood. He’s averaging 8.0 points and 4.4 rebounds in about 21 minutes of action. He had 14 points off the bench against Lafayette. Jarrod Polson, a 6-foot-2 junior, scores at a 4.8 clip in 18 ½ minutes per game.

Brey on Kentucky’s front line: “A really tough front line beat us in New York -- St. Joe’s’ old, athletic front line. (Kentucky’s) shooting percentage in the paint is off the charts. Keeping a body on people, not letting them get too deep, keeping them to one and done…It will be the ultimate challenge, but it’s a similar preparation to what we see in the Big East a lot of nights. We have to neutralize these bouncy, athletic, long front lines. The nights we do it, we’re able to get out with a win; the nights it gets to us, we usually lose the game in the Big East.”

Brey on home atmosphere: “It will be the atmosphere of the Syracuse game last year. We haven’t played in that at home (this season), so I have to talk to our guys about us not getting out of character with a crazy atmosphere at home because we’ve yet to have that. When we have a crazy atmosphere, sometimes we play too fast on offense. We’ve gotten a little too excited. So we have to handle that maturely. These guys have played in a great home atmosphere, so hopefully they can digest that.”

Prister’s take: If there’s a time to play John Calipari’s latest collection of talent, November is the best time to do it. This is not a finished product by any means. The Wildcats struggled at home with Morehead State, winning by just 11 after succumbing to a 16-0 run in the second half and trailing, 42-36. They also were out-rebounded, 54-38, by Duke.

This is a new experience for the young Kentucky squad with four freshmen and a sophomore among the top seven. Kentucky’s athleticism against Notre Dame is a danger. The Wildcats are capable of playing volleyball on the backboards, even against the above-average size the Irish boast.

The key tonight, however, will be the shooting from beyond the arc. Brey has been dabbling with his zone defense, which is the preferred approach against Kentucky’s size and athleticism, but a dangerous one at that. It’s pick your poison. Kentucky is shooting .586 from the field on two-point attempts and .461 on three-point attempts.

If the Irish can take advantage of their size and keep Kentucky’s offensive rebounds to a reasonable figure, continue the hot shooting from the last game against Chicago State, and hold the Wildcats under their hot start from beyond the arc, the Notre Dame will add another pelt to the Purcell Pavilion wall.

Notre Dame’s home-court advantage and its veteran lineup prevail over the up-and-coming force from Kentucky, which makes its first true road trip of the season.

Pointspread: Notre Dame by 2
Prister’s Prediction: Notre Dame 68, Kentucky 64
Prister’s record: 6-1 straight up; 4-1 vs. points


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