Dec. 9, 2010
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) – Terrence Jones didn’t sleep through this one.
A game after Kentucky coach John Calipari chastised his talented freshman forward for taking a midmorning nap before playing miserably in a loss at North Carolina, Jones erupted for 27 points as the 17th-ranked Wildcats pulled away from Notre Dame 72-58 on Wednesday night in the SEC/Big East Invitational.
“Jones is an amazing talent, a tough match up,” Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said.
Jones added 17 rebounds and several clutch free throws in the closing minutes. Brandon Knight had 20 points for the Wildcats (6-2), who avoided Calipari’s first losing streak on the bench since 2005 by shutting down the Fighting Irish (8-1) in the second half.
Notre Dame shot just 20 percent (6 of 30) in the second half and had no answer for Jones, who took the loss to the Tar Heels personally. He slogged through a miserable 3-of-17 performance, a showing Calipari blamed on poor preparation and an ill-timed snooze that Calipari said had Jones sleepwalking against the Tar Heels.
Jones was wide awake against the Irish, showcasing a variety of skills. He hit two 3-pointers, added three assists and two blocks in 38 minutes.
“Coming in, all I was thinking about was supporting my team and to make up for a loss,” Jones said. “I love challenges. It was a game that was very intensely played. They made us rise up and play harder.”
Ben Hansbrough led the Irish with 21 points but scored just two in the second half as Kentucky’s defense clamped down. Notre Dame went without a field goal for over 12 minutes spanning the first and second half, allowing Kentucky to turn an 11-point deficit into a seven-point lead it would never give up.
“We missed some stuff around the basket, and that deflated us a little,” Brey said. “I thought we were poised at times and we were frazzled at times. We weren’t scoring.”
Kentucky’s lack of interior depth had been exploited while losing to the Tar Heels, as Jones, Josh Harrellson and Eloy Vargas all struggled with foul trouble.
The trio managed to stay on the court against the Irish, helping the Wildcats control the glass. Kentucky outrebounded Notre Dame 42-34 and showed some grit it lacked at times against the Tar Heels.
“We talked about a sense of urgency,” Calipari said. “We had some guys not ready to play at North Carolina. We’re just beginning to learn.”
The Wildcats even showed some touch at the free-throw line. Kentucky made 17 of 22 free throws (77 percent), well above its season average of 64 percent.
Notre Dame, which rode the hot hand of Hansbrough to the lead, struggled when the game grew more physical in the second half. Even when the whistle blew, the Irish couldn’t find their stroke. Notre Dame missed 5 of 6 free throws over the final 3:48 and couldn’t contain Jones.
He clapped his hands together after hitting a little runner in the lane to put the Wildcats up 62-55, then held his left hand aloft after making a 3-pointer from the corner on Kentucky’s next possession to push the lead to 65-57. Notre Dame’s Tyrone Nash missed two free throws while Jones made two at the other end to increase the lead to 67-57 with 1:14 to go.
“No way we were going to lose coming off a loss,” Jones said.
The venue was technically a neutral site, but it hardly seemed like it, and it wasn’t just the highly partisan Kentucky crowd that made the short hour drive from Lexington for the game.
The Kentucky State Fair Board purchased a University of Kentucky court in hopes of getting the Wildcats to play at Freedom Hall more than once a year. The baselines and sidelines were a familiar shade of blue, though the massive ‘UK’ logo at center court was covered up by a larger one promoting the event. It was an odd look for an arena that served as the home of rival Louisville for 54 years before the Cardinals moved to the new KFC Yum! Center this fall.
The raucous atmosphere didn’t affect the senior-laden Irish, at least not early.
Hansbrough ripped off 11 straight points – knocking down three consecutive 3-pointers – as the Irish eventually built an 11-point lead. The younger brother of former North Carolina star Tyler Hansbrough seemed to thrive in the environment, he stuck his hands behind his back after drilling a particularly deep 3-pointer and stared into the crowd while getting back on defense after nailing another.
The Wildcats, however, responded behind the play of Jones. He gave Kentucky a much-needed jolt with a stepthrough two-handed dunk that sparked a late 13-2 run as Kentucky tied it at 40 at halftime.
“We had early mistakes, we wanted to concentrate on cutting down on them and getting back in the game,” Jones said. “As a team we said we needed to stop (Hansbrough). If we do that, we take over the game and it’ll be easy.”