UK’s 66-62 loss to Notre Dame questions importance of tune-up games


Kentucky Wildcats guard Sahvir Wheeler (2) shoots the ball during the UK vs. Southern basketball game on Tuesday, Dec. 7, 2021, at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Kentucky. UK won 76-64. Photo by Jack Weaver | Staff

Hunter Shelton

No. 10 Kentucky’s seven-game winning streak was halted on Saturday afternoon in South Bend, Indiana as the Notre Dame Fighting Irish fought past the Cats, 66-62. 

Despite a career-high 25 points from Oscar Tshiebwethe Wildcats could not sustain a lead larger than five points against ND.

Notre Dame finished with four players in double-figures scoring, led by 14 points from Blake Wesley and Dane Goodwin. Wesley shot 6-12 from the floor while tallying four rebounds and three assists. Goodwin shot 5-9 while accumulating six boards and an assist. 

The Wildcats struggles began and finished at the 3-point line. UK heaved up 19 shots from beyond the arch, only to see two go through the net, both of which came by Kellan Grady.  

The loss is a sour one for the Cats, as they have now lost both of their games against Power Five opponents. Out of UK’s seven victories, just one has come against a team rated inside the KenPom top 200. Meanwhile, four of the Wildcats’ seven wins have come against teams ranked outside of the top 300.  

Notre Dame, however, had already taken on three opponents inside the KenPom top 100 before the Cats made the trek to South Bend.  

Kentucky has now failed to defeat the Fighting Irish the last three times the two teams met inside Purcell Pavillion. Notre Dame has defeated UK in four of the last six matchups.  

While the Fighting Irish could not contain Tshiebwe on offense, they managed to hold the nation’s leading rebounder to just seven boards in 37 minutes, a season low for the Tshiebwe 

ND was also able to stifle UK’s Sahvir Wheeler, holding the Georgia transfer to three points, two assists, two rebounds and two turnovers. The two assists are a season-low for Wheeler, who led the country in dimes coming into Saturday.  

While Kentucky turned the ball over just five times, a plethora of bad shot selections plagued the Cats from sustaining any major lead against Notre Dame. Aside from Tshiebwe’s 11-14 shooting day, just one other Wildcat, Keion Brooks Jr, shot 50 percent or better from the floor.  

Calipari was open in his press conference before the team left for Indiana on Friday, stating that he was yet to “figure out” his team, “especially on offense.” Saturday bared witness to the first time coach Calipari needed his offense to perform in crunch time since the opener versus Duke. Despite Tshiebwe’s dominance, the Cats failed to execute on the offensive end multiple times down the stretch, allowing ND to remain in striking distance.  

Saturday’s loss will sting for Big Blue Nation just as much as it will for Calipari and the players, and then some. November saw the Wildcats crack down on weak opposition, frequently referred to by the team and fans alike as “tune-ups” and “confidence builders.”  

Just under two weeks into December, a different tune is being sung by the UK faithful, clamoring for better non-conference scheduling while the thought of the 2020-21 season begins to hang over the heads of those in Lexington 

Despite the disappointing loss to Notre Dame, the Wildcats are now faced with the opportunity to right the ship.  

Saturday, Dec. 18, will see the Wildcats take on the Ohio State Buckeyes out west at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. Following the Big Ten clash, the Wildcats will return to Lexington to renew their rivalry with Louisville on Wednesday, Dec. 22 

The Buckeyes will ride a four-game winning streak into Las Vegas, including wins over Duke and Wisconsin. The Cardinals currently stand at 6-3, including two disappointing losses to Furman and DePaul. 

The next two weeks provide Kentucky with an opportunity to make BBN forget all about Saturday’s abysmal second-half performance, as conference play looms. UK’s SEC opener against Missouri is set for Dec. 29 at 7 p.m. E.T at Rupp Arena.