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DeFranks: Irish win sends a message (Nov. 30)

Matthew DeFranks | Friday, November 30, 2012

During pregame warm-ups, No. 8 Kentucky practiced alley-oops. They had high-bouncing H-O-R-S-E passes to slam and they had lobs above the rim. They pounded them home emphatically before getting emphatically pounded by the home team – a team no one had seen before.

Notre Dame, in its first marquee contest of the season, took down the young defending champions 64-50, showing both Notre Dame fans and the nation who they really are. The Irish are a tough, savvy group of veterans. They are streaky 3-point shooters. They are masters of team defense. They are rugged rebounders.

And they are just getting started.

The Irish, who came into the season ranked No. 22 after returning all five starters from a 22-win team, had not performed like that all season. They had let inferior teams hang around before blowing them out. They had lost to St. Joseph’s on the biggest stage they had. And they had not faced a team like the Wildcats.

But that all changed Thursday night when the Irish built a 20-point lead on a top-10 team.

“This is the team we thought we were and this is the team we know we can be,” Irish senior forward Jack Cooley said. “We’re going to be this team going into the Big East. It was good to see it for everyone to know that this is who we’re going to be and they have to come in prepared for this type of team.”
Notre Dame did not just win this game – they dominated. They led for 30 of the 40 minutes in the game and suffocated the potent and talented Wildcats.

Each and every year, Kentucky and coach John Calipari rent first-round talent, trot them around the nation as show ponies and ride them to Final Four appearances. But this was not March. This was November, when freshmen still act like freshmen and inexperience on the road really shows.

But should this game really have been a surprise? Yes, the Irish had not performed at this level all season, it was Kentucky and it was big, bad Calipari. But, it was a home game in November (Notre Dame has now won 49 straight) and it was against a top-10 foe (the Irish are 4-0 in their last four meetings with such teams).

Irish coach Mike Brey always seems to get his squad up for big games. Just look at Notre Dame’s win over Syracuse in January, when they were a lowly Big East team without its best player welcoming in the top-ranked team in the country. You know what happened next.

After the game, Brey and the players did not act any differently. Their attitudes seemed unfazed by the big win and their egos seemed in check. They knew this team had to show up at some point, they expected it to.

So, no, it really should not come as a surprise the Irish won. But the way they won was shocking.

They won without any points from Pat Connaghton and with only 13 assists. But they relied on their defense, their home crowd and their experience to perform the way everyone, including the team, expected them to.

Notre Dame sent a message during Thursday night’s win: this is who we are, Big East, get ready. And they also sent one to opposing teams – do not practice alley-oops on our rims.

Contact Matthew DeFranks at mdefrank@nd.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.