Jan. 18, 2003
By CHRIS DUNCAN
AP Sports Writer
LEXINGTON, Ky. – Kentucky coach Tubby Smith accurately predicted the key to beating No. 10 Notre Dame.
The No. 16 Wildcats executed Smith’s game plan of containing point guard Chris Thomas to near perfection Saturday and beat Notre Dame 88-73.
Thomas, Notre Dame’s assist leader and second-leading scorer, scored 14 points but committed nine turnovers in the loss.
“We frustrated him. That was the goal,” Smith said.
Thomas endured constant harassment from Kentucky guards Gerald Fitch and Cliff Hawkins and finished 4-of-17 from the field.
Thomas also struggled with Kentucky last season, going 4-for-15 from the field with four turnovers in a 72-65 Wildcats’ win in South Bend, Ind.
“They played good defense,” Thomas said. “They kept a hand in my face.”
While Fitch and Hawkins kept Thomas in check, Kentucky forward Chuck Hayes dominated inside. The 6-foot-6 sophomore had 17 points, 16 rebounds and five assists – all career highs.
“I just wanted to play the best that I could,” said Hayes, who recorded his third double-double of the season. “I wanted to get after it early, get on it offensively and defensively.”
Marquis Estill scored 18 – 14 in the second half – and Erik Daniels added 15 points and six rebounds for the Wildcats (13-3), who beat the Irish for the ninth straight time.
Matt Carroll scored 29 for Notre Dame (14-3), which shot 34 percent from the field and 32 percent from 3-point range.
Kentucky carried over its defensive effort from the second half of its 74-52 win at Vanderbilt on Tuesday. The Wildcats had 12 steals and outscored Vanderbilt 46-16 in the second half.
“The last couple of games, we’ve been playing great defense,” said Estill, who had two of Kentucky’s eight blocked shots. “We’re playing great right now.”
The Irish missed 12 of their first 15 shots as Kentucky’s swarming defense dominated from the start.
Fitch and Hawkins took turns chasing Thomas while the Wildcats shredded Notre Dame’s 2-3 zone defense, hitting eight of their first 14 shots for a 17-7 lead.
“Chris Thomas is a tough, crafty guy,” Hawkins said. “You just try to stay in front of him. We just tried to keep the heat on him, tried to keep a fresh body on him the whole time.”
Keith Bogans scored on a breakaway layup and sank a jumper from the wing during a 12-2 run that pushed the Kentucky lead to 31-15 by the six-minute mark of the first half.
Thomas finally got an open look and buried a 3-pointer from the wing with 5:50 left in the half to start a 10-2 Irish spurt. Thomas finished the half with eight points, five assists and four turnovers.
The Wildcats led 38-30 at halftime.
“Notre Dame didn’t get anything easy,” Hayes said.
Estill scored 11 points in the first seven minutes of the second half as Kentucky pounded the ball inside.
The 6-foot-9 Estill fought off three defenders and scored with 15:12 left and dropped in a hook two minutes later to push Kentucky’s lead to 14.
“That was the game plan, to get the ball inside,” said Estill. “We felt if they stayed up on our shooters, that would open up things inside. We knew we could get some easy baskets.”
The Irish hit four of their first nine second-half shots, but then went three minutes without a point. Carroll’s pull-up jumper with 12:17 left ended Notre Dame’s drought, but Daniels scored on a tip-in a minute later to restore the 14-point lead.
The Irish never mustered a serious run in the final 10 minutes, as the Wildcats maintained their defense and controlled the boards.
“That’s the best team we’ve played all season,” said Notre Dame coach Mike Brey, whose team has wins over Marquette and Texas this season.
Kentucky outrebounded Notre Dame 41-34. The Irish were outrebounded for the fourth straight game.
The Irish have never won in Rupp Arena in eight visits.
“You’re concerned about playing in a place like this, with all the bodies they have,” said Notre Dame coach Mike Brey. “We couldn’t get a stop or a clean look offensively.”
Kentucky’s 1978 national championship team was honored at halftime. A video detailing the season was shown before the introductions of the players and Coach Joe B. Hall.