NOTRE DAME, Ind. - When you're playing the defending national champions, it's not supposed to be this easy.
When you're playing against said champion without any of the stars that led them to the national title, the growing pains on the road are going to hurt.
Notre Dame (7-1) took the lead for good at the 10:40 mark of the first half and never relinquished it, leading by double digits over the final 21:48 as the Irish cruised to a 64-50 victory over No. 8 Kentucky Thursday night at Purcell Pavilion.
"I'm glad we played them now because they're really young and talented," said Irish head coach Mike Brey of John Calipari's Wildcats (4-2), who play four freshmen and two sophomores among their top eight. "They're going to be better in January and February.
"But I was very confident about our group. It was interesting to hear people around the country. We didn't look at it as an upset. We felt we had a team that's played together and could get into a rhythm against a very talented young group."
The Irish found their rhythm quickly, using a 15-4 run in the first half to go from a 12-6 deficit to a 21-16 lead. The advantage would reach 13 points in the first half and as much as 20 in the second half.
Junior point guard Eric Atkins gave the Irish a spark out of the gate, scoring Notre Dame's first six points and 13 of his 16 in the first half.
"Jerian (Grant) really set me up with a couple of curls early, and I got going," Atkins said. "I just wanted to keep that up and keep myself rolling."
Grant finished with 13 points and six assists while connecting on 3-of-4 from three-point range. Scott Martin scored all eight of his points in the second half. Jack Cooley notched his sixth double-double in eight games with 13 points and 11 rebounds. Freshman Cameron Biedscheid tossed in 10 points in 17 minutes of action.
Where the Irish really excelled was on the defensive end, holding the Wildcats to 25 points in each half and more than 30 points under their season average. Kentucky converted just 40.4 of its shots from the field and a mere 28.6 percent (4-of-14) from three-point range.
Kentucky's leading scorer, freshman guard Archie Goodwin at 19.0 points per game, was limited to three points on 1-of-7 shooting. The Wildcats' second leading scorer, freshman Alex Poythress, shot just one time, got into foul trouble, and ended up with three points.
Senior guard Julius Mays, a transfer from Wright State, paced the Wildcats with 16 points. Freshman center Nerlens Noel was the only other Wildcat in double figures with 10 points.
Notre Dame shot 48.0 percent from the field, including 53.3 percent (8-of-15) from three-point range.
"You can play poorly but you can still defend," Calipari said. "In other words, two teams just battling each other and Notre Dame wins.
"That's not what this was. This was Notre Dame throwing around Kentucky and winning by as many as they needed to win by."
Leading 36-25 at halftime, the Irish quickly expanded their advantage to 15 (50-35) at the 12:49 mark, and 20 (55-35) less than three minutes later. The closest the Wildcats would come the rest of the way was 10 points as they finally took advantage of Noel and 7-foot-0 Willie Cauley-Stein, who combined for 12 second-half points.
But it wasn't nearly enough to compensate for Notre Dame's efficiency. The Irish out-rebounded the Wildcats, 33-27, including 10-8 on the offensive end.
"This is a big résumé win," said Cooley, who grabbed six of his 11 rebounds on the offensive end. "It's good to get it out there and know early that we're a good team so we can have confidence in the Big East.
"It was a really physical game. It wasn't as much in the first half, but something happened at halftime. They came out pretty angry in the paint and tried to out-physical us. But we weren't going to let it happen. We won the battle of the rebounds. That's what we wanted to do and that's what we went out there and did."
Biedscheid hit 2-of-3 from three-point range, which gives him 9-of-14 from beyond the arc in his last three games.
"He's a bright lights guy," said Brey of Biedscheid.
The guard trio of Atkins, Grant and Biedscheid combined for 29 points on 16-of-32 shooting from the field.
The Irish get a much-needed break after playing four games in nine days. The next game is Saturday, Dec. 8 - in nine days - when they host Brown, followed by another week off before playing Purdue in the Close the Gap Crossroads Classic in Indianapolis.