SOUTH BEND, Ind. — The Cats faced a double-digit deficit in Atlanta against Duke earlier this season and fought back to make it close against a team that many believe is the best in the country right now.
Down 11 at the half, and by as much as 20 midway through the second half Thursday night against the Irish, everyone knew the Cats would make a run.
They wouldn’t quit, the ball would bounce their way, some shots would finally drop and the Cats would get the Irish faithful crammed in the Edmund P. Joyce Center once again fantasizing about Manti Te’o hoisting the BCS national championship trophy.
That run never materialized, as the Cats failed to drop the Irish lead below 10 points in what former UK football coach Rich Brooks would have despondently described as an “all-systems failure.”
“There were times we just weren’t competing as hard as I know we can compete,” graduate student guard Julius Mays said. “We came out a little shell shocked. They played harder on offense, they played harder on defense, they just competed harder.”
The Cats were beat in virtually every important statistical category, but more importantly did not pass the “eye” test of giving maximum effort and playing as a team.
Going in to the game, the Cats were ranked in the top 10 in the nation in offensive efficiency.
They were about as efficient as a square tire against the Irish, managing just 25 points each half and committing just as many turnovers as assists (12).
“He (freshman point guard Archie Goodwin) was playing out of control for the first time. He hadn’t played like that all year,” Calipari said. “There are a lot of things that went out the window. We weren’t looking for each other. Whoever had the ball was looking to score.”
They failed to impress on the defensive and on the boards, allowing the Irish to connect on 53.3 percent of their 3-point attempts and getting outrebounded 33-27.
“We didn’t defend them the way we have to defend,” Calipari said. “We left the corner three to four times.”
Sophomore point guard Ryan Harrow made his return, scoring two points in nine minutes played, but also gave up a back-breaking 3-point basket when the Cats had the lead cut to 10.
“He (Ryan) left the corner,” Calipari said. “It was the biggest play of the game.”
The Cats’ fate was decided by more than just one defensive lapse, however; they were completely dominated by the Irish.
“This was Notre Dame throwing around Kentucky and winning by as many as they needed to win by. That’s what the game was, so I am disappointed,” Calipari said. “I would have hoped we would have competed. At least against Duke we competed, we battled and we fought like crazy. In this game we just didn’t.”
The silver lining — if there is any — is that the Cats get to show what they learned against Baylor at Rupp Arena on Saturday afternoon.
“It’s tough coaching new teams every year. That is what’s hard,” Calipari said.