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History doesn’t repeat itself

Andrew Soukup | Monday, January 26, 2004

For the fleetest moment, history seemed on the verge of repeating itself.

Notre Dame had fought back from a double-digit deficit at home with a furious rally at the end of the second half. The Joyce Center crowd stood on its feet, trying to will the Irish to a spectacular come-from-behind win against a highly ranked foe. Even the members of the Notre Dame team that knocked off No. 1 UCLA 30 years ago, who returned for a halftime reunion but had spent the rest of the game in their seats, arose with a yell.

But 2004 isn’t 1974.

And the upset the majority of the Joyce Center wanted never happened.

So this year’s version of the Irish, despite cutting a 15-point deficit to three, couldn’t complete the rally as its home struggles continued in a 71-63 loss to No. 9 Kentucky.

“We felt some more calls could have gone our way, and we need some more balls to bounce our way,” Irish guard Chris Thomas said. “But that’s been our luck at home.

We don’t have any.”

Few could have predicted the outcome would have remained in doubt until the final minute, especially when the Wildcats jumped out to a 32-17 lead in the first half. And with 3:53 left in the game, Kentucky held onto what initially appeared to be a comfortable nine-point margin.

Then the Irish went to work. Torrian Jones and Jordan Cornette both tipped in missed Irish shots to cut the Kentucky lead to five with 1:46 left, and 39 seconds later, Chris Quinn made two free-throws pull Notre Dame to within three.

But that was as close as the Irish would get. After a Kentucky timeout, Cornette fouled Chuck Hayes, who made the front end of a one-and-one. Quinn missed an off-balance jumper, Cornette missed a chance to tip the ball in, and the Irish missed their chance for an upset.

“[We were] immature in the first half, mature in the second half,” said Irish coach Mike Brey. “They played mature for all 40 minutes.

“That’s why they won.”

Notre Dame only led for the first 2:23 of the game before withering under a red-hot Kentucky offense that outscored the Irish 30-12 over a 12-minute stretch in the first half. In that span, the Wildcats shredded an Irish defense with transition baskets and easy layups. On the other end, Notre Dame settled for 3-pointers too quickly and had trouble establishing Torin Francis amidst a double-teaming defense.

“When we play men, we have had trouble playing older guys,” Brey said. “We’ve been the younger group. I think it’s been very glaring.

But unlike their performance against Syracuse a week ago, the Irish battled back. Even when Kentucky scored to give itself a 15-point lead with 7:33, the Irish didn’t give up. Slowly, they chipped away at the Wildcat lead and set the stage for the game’s thrilling final minutes.

When the final horn sounded, however, it was painfully apparent that the Irish comeback – marked by a physical defense and a patient offense – was too little, too late.

“Our will to win was there. It just wasn’t there the entire time,” Cornette said. “When we play like [we did at the end], we’re the No. 1 team in the country.”

Notre Dame, despite getting 16 points apiece from Thomas and Jones and 10 points from Tom Timmermans, shot a miserable 3-of-17 from 3-point range. And although the Irish grabbed 10 more offensive rebounds than the smaller Wildcats, Kentucky’s quick 6-foot-8 forward Hayes scored a game-high 21 points compared to just eight points from Notre Dame’s 6-foot-11 Francis, who called the consistent double-teams he endured “frustrating.”

With the loss, Notre Dame dropped its fourth game of the season against ranked teams and has won just six of its 10 games at the Joyce Center this season. And although the Irish comeback had the Irish more encouraged in the locker room than they were after the demoralizing loss to Syracuse, the loss still showed them how far this year’s crop of the Irish are behind the nation’s elite programs.

“I don’t think we’re as good a team as them,” Thomas said. “We have the talent, the personnel and the basketball IQ.

“But we haven’t put it all together.”