CATS lose first true road game of season
SOUTH BEND – December 11, 2021
Freshman and hometown hero Blake Wesley’s driving pull-up jumper in the lane with 11.7 seconds to go put Notre Dame ahead as the Irish stunned No. 10 Kentucky 66-62 on Saturday.
Dane Goodwin added a dunk as time expired and fans stormed the Purcell Pavilion court.
Wesley — the first South Bend public high school student to sign at Notre Dame in 36 years — was among those mobbed after hitting the winner in his first collegiate home start.
“It gave me chills when he was introduced as from South Bend,” Irish coach Mike Brey said.
Those chills grew.
“He’s really special,” Brey said of the 6-foot-5 guard, already averaging 13.0 points to rank second for the Irish. “You start him on a road league (game in ND’s last outing, at Boston College, Wesley’s first career start). I don’t even know if that’s fair. Is that child abuse?
“And then he’s playing against old guys tonight,” Brey said. “He’s a puppy compared to some of the guys he’s playing against, but there’s a special uniqueness about him.”
Notre Dame (4-4) ended a three-game losing skid in its first matchup of the season against a ranked team, while also halting the Wildcats’ (7-2) seven-game winning streak.
Wesley and Goodwin scored 14 points each for the Irish, who erased a 53-48 Kentucky lead at the 8:07 mark with an 11-1 spurt, then scored the game’s final five points over the closing 1:31.
Trey Wertz added 12 points and Paul Atkinson 10 for the Irish.
The Wildcats’ Oscar Tshiebwe led all players with 25 points. He was 11 of 14 from the field to go with seven rebounds and game highs of three steals and two blocks.
Fort Wayne native Keion Brooks added 12 points and seven rebounds in his first game back in his home state.
“Let’s hope it’s a fluke,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said of his team missing 17 of 19 shots outside the arc, while ND was going 7 of 22 from long distance.
Calipari, though, said the loss was more about defensive breakdowns over the final eight minutes, and he rattled off several examples.
“When you’re shooting 2 of 19, you can’t afford to do that, too,” Calipari said, “and that’s what happened.”
Kentucky: The Wildcats had feasted on a soft schedule since their season-opening 79-71 loss to No. 3 Duke in New York, and until Saturday, hadn’t played a true road game. It caught up to them and gets tougher now. Next Saturday’s matchup against No. 21 Ohio State will be followed by hosting rival Louisville (6-3).
Notre Dame: ND’s pursuit to regain national relevancy got a boost. The Irish, trying to avoid a third losing season in four years, beat a ranked club for just the second time in their last 30 tries, dating to November 2017.
A somber Calipari opened his postgame press conference by addressing the tornadoes that touched down in parts of Kentucky on Friday night, killing at least 70 and destroying hundreds of homes and businesses, according to Saturday evening updates.
“The Commonwealth was really dealt an unbelievable blow,” Calipari said. “It’s going to take decades to fix.”
Wildcat players were tracking updates all day, according to their coach.
“We went to the Grotto this morning before we shot around, and we talked about it after the game,” Calipari said. “We play basketball. This is someone losing their mother, working in the warehouse, working for Amazon, and all of a sudden this happens.”
The Wildcats are organizing a telethon, possibly for Tuesday, according to their coach.
“It’s all hands on deck,” Calipari said.
FRENZIED BY FREEMAN
Marcus Freeman and a few of his Irish football players took the court to a rousing ovation during a first-half timeout in ND’s first home game since he was named head coach Dec. 3.
Freeman expressed gratitude for the reception and said his team has “one objective” right now, to beat Oklahoma State in the Fiesta Bowl on Jan. 1.
“Last but not least,” Freeman declared, “let’s root like crazy for this Irish basketball team to beat Kentucky. Let’s go!”
Notre Dame inducted LaPhonso Ellis into its Ring of Honor at halftime.
He became the 10th individual from the Notre Dame men’s program to receive that salute, and the Irish improved to 10-0 in games at which those individuals have been honored.
Ellis averaged 15.5 points, 11.1 rebounds, 2.1 blocks and shot 60.7% from the field during his ND career, from 1988-92, and is the lone Irish player in the last 53 years to average a double-double three straight seasons.
Kentucky: The Wildcats play No. 21 Ohio State on Saturday evening in Las Vegas in their first game against a ranked opponent since the season opener.