College Hoops Wednesday Recap: Kentucky Clamps Down on Irish

December 9th, 2010
Coming off of a tough loss at North Carolina, which featured a somnambulant Terrence Jones failing to shake off the after-effects of a pregame nap, the Kentucky Wildcats needed to get back on the winning track. And after a slow start against Notre Dame in the second game of the SEC/Big East Invitational, John Calipari's team woke up late in the first half and carried that effort over after the break. The end result: a 72-58 win for the Wildcats at Freedom Hall to give the SEC a sweep of the first two games (another doubleheader will be played in Pittsburgh on Saturday). Jones played much better basketball against the experienced Notre Dame frontcourt, scoring a game-high 27 points while also grabbing 17 rebounds in getting back to the impressive form that made him a star at the Maui Invitational. Ben Hansbrough led Notre Dame with 21 points but 19 of those came in the first half as Kentucky's young guards failed to find an answer for him.

Both teams shot well in the first half, which ended tied at 40, but it was the Kentucky defense in the second half that proved too stifling for the Irish to handle. Hansbrough was 0-for-5 from the field in the second half, and with Tim Abromaitis struggling all night and forwards Carleton Scott and Jack Cooley the only players to make more than one field goal Notre Dame shot 20% from the field and scored just 18 points in the final twenty minutes. As neither team shot well in the second half, the difference was a combination of Jones (15 points, 12 rebounds in the half) and points from the three-point line (Kentucky: 5-15, Notre Dame: 1-13). Kentucky was also a better team from the foul line, making 11 of 14 while the Irish made just five of ten. Add all that up and you've got a solid Kentucky victory.

The game turned after a pair of Abromaitis free throws with 4:44 remaining in the first half to put Notre Dame up 38-27. For the next 12 minutes Kentucky held the Irish without a field goal, and when that dry spell was finished Notre Dame found themselves down seven. Kentucky played up a level, especially on the defensive end, which can be a challenge for a team that's so young. "We talked about a sense of urgency," Coach Calipari remarked after the game. "We had some guys not ready to play at North Carolina. We're just beginning to learn." They showed the beginnings of such on Wednesday night, and the hope for them is that they can continue to build on it as the season progresses.

Other Notable Happenings

1. Vanderbilt lets a great opportunity slip away at the foul line.
To say that it's been a tough week for Marcus Denmon would be an understatement. Denmon's cousins was shot and killed on Friday in Kansas City, so it would have been of no surprise if Marcus would have been unable to play. And the heavy heart likely played a role in the junior scoring just two points in the first half against Vanderbilt last night. But when needed in the second half and overtime, Marcus stepped up in leading Missouri to an 85-82 win over the Commodores in overtime. Denmon scored 19 points in the second stanza and extra session, knocking down a three to tie the game at 80 with 1:17 remaining then making the play of the game with 5.8 seconds to go. Denmon stole the ball from Brad Tinsley following a Michael Dixon basket to tie the score at 82, then converted a layup as Tinsley fouled him. The ensuing foul shot provided the final score as Tinsley was unable to make the game-tying three. Where did Vanderbilt lose this one? Try the foul line, where they made just four of twelve in the second half, making just one of their final six in regulation. Leaving those points on the floor will come back to haunt you in close contests, so while the main story should be Denmon's play you can't help but think that Kevin Stallings' team let one get away.

2. Washington State could be a top 4 team in the Pac-10 while Gonzaga may be in trouble.
Gonzaga and Washington State met again in one of the better rivalries on the West Coast, but unlike most recent meetings the outcome was rarely in doubt in Pullman. Head coach Ken Bone admitted at halftime that he may have gone too long with the group that got the Cougars up by as many as 19 points in the first half (25-6), and in the second half the better use of the bench combined with good defense put the Bulldogs away. Klay Thompson scored 24 points while Faisal Aden (14) and Patrick Simon (11) both reached double figures off the bench, and Marcus Capers harassed Steven Gray into shooting 2-for-10 from the field (seven points, seven assists and six turnovers) as the Cougars made an emphatic statement in winning 81-59. Can the Cougars be a top four team in the Pac-10?

If they can continue to play defense as well as they did last night (Gonzaga shot 39.6% and had 25 turnovers) they definitely can, especially considering the fact that with Reggie Moore back in the fold this team is that much better offensively and they could already score. As for Gonzaga, they may be in trouble in regards to being an at-large team. Their best win thus far came against Marquette, putting more pressure on Mark Few's team to pick up a win against either Notre Dame (Saturday) or Baylor (December 18th). But the real concern is the lack of difference-makers outside of Gray. Elias Harris has been a shell of himself this season due to shoulder and Achilles injuries, and while Robert Sacre has been solid inside he's reliant upon others getting him the ball. Gonzaga may be getting close to the point where they need to win the WCC's automatic bid in order to dance, something that seemed unfathomable when the season began.

3. Duke could be without Kyrie Irving (toe) for at least a month.
This news actually broke earlier in the week, but head coach Mike Krzyzewski's comments following Duke's 83-48 win over Bradley caused much concern among Duke fans. "It is serious and whatever final decision is made will obviously be what's in his best interest and his career," said Krzyzewski, who passed Adolph Rupp for third place in all-time wins (877). "Not to save him for any period of time or whatever, but he could be out or a long time. He could possibly be out for the year." But if there's any team that has the ability to adjust its game to the loss of an explosive point guard like Irving it would be Duke, who had to slow things down a bit last season and all that group did was win a national title. Andre Dawkins caught fire last night, knocking down eight three pointers in scoring a career-high 28 points in starting for Irving. Miles Plumlee made all seven of his field goal attempts while Kyle Singler scored 17 points and Nolan Smith dished out ten assists to two turnovers. Losing a player the caliber of Irving will hurt, make no mistake about it, but Duke is still a solid favorite to win the national title despite their guard rotation being shortened.

Top Three Games

1. Hofstra 89, Binghamton 85 (OT) The Pride picked up a comeback win on the road thanks in large part to 40 points from senior guard Charles Jenkins. Mike Moore added 28 for Mo Cassara's team while Greer Wright led the Bearcats with 28 points and seven assists.

2. Sacred Heart 56, Hartford 55 The Pioneers stormed back from a 20-point deficit with just over eight minutes remaining to beat the Hawks in Fairfield. Jerrell Thompson was the hero in the final minute, scoring five points in the final 38 seconds to tie the game then stealing the ball with two seconds left, which led to Stan Dulaire's game-winning free throw with no time on the clock. Shane Gibson led the Pioneers with 16 points.

3. Colorado 90, Colorado State 83 (OT) Unlike Vanderbilt, Colorado was able to survive free throw issues in regulation to beat their in-state rival in overtime. Colorado made 35 of 41 foul shots for the game but the majority of their misses seemed to come at the wrong time. Alec Burks led the Buffs with 25 points while Travis Franklin led the Rams with 19.

Three Notable Performances

1. G Charles Jenkins (Hofstra) 40 points, six assists and five rebounds in Hofstra's win over Binghamton.

2. F Terrence Jones (Kentucky) 27 points, 17 rebounds and three assists in Kentucky's win over Notre Dame.

3. F Marshall Moses (Oklahoma State) 31 points on 12-12 shooting from the field to go along with six rebounds in the Cowboys' 71-54 win over Tulsa.