Notre Dame star says Irish must contain Cats inside

January 22, 2004|LARRY VAUGHT

Chris Thomas knows what Notre Dame needs to be able to do defensively to beat Kentucky Sunday.

"Everybody has to play within 15 feet of the basket except on (Gerald) Fitch and be ready to guard and block out," said Thomas, a senior point guard at Notre Dame.

Then Thomas, who had 23 points Tuesday in Notre Dame's 74-63 win at Virginia Tech, admitted stopping Kentucky was easier said than done because forwards Erik Daniels and Chuck Hayes are legitimate interior scoring threats.

"Hayes and Daniels are two of the most underrated players in the country as far as what they add to the team and their impact on the game," Thomas said Wednesday. "We have to show we know how to stop their inside game.


"We can live with Fitch throwing in some 3s because he'll make tough shots, and bad shots. But I think Daniels and Hayes are two of the best offensive rebounders in the country and that's where their offense gets started. We have to buckle down on D (defense). If it means taking a hard foul or blocking two guys out at a time, we have just to do it."

Notre Dame's defense had been so shaky that Thomas recently suggested to an assistant coach that the Fighting Irish (9-5, 3-2 Big East) concentrate more on defense in practice.

The Irish limited Virginia Tech to 23-for-65 shooting from the field and outrebounded the Hokies 43-37. Thomas hopes that's the start of the kind of defensive effort Notre Dame needs against a team like Kentucky.

"It is huge to play that kind of D against Kentucky," Thomas said. "The last couple of games they've been held in the 50's, but their defense also kept teams in the 50s. If we keep them in the 50s, we will have a great shot (at winning). With Syracuse, 70 points should have been enough to beat them. Same with Indiana, but we just didn't guard anybody in both games."

Kentucky's offense has not been quite as bad as Thomas noted. The Wildcats lost 65-57 to Georgia Saturday, but they did score 69 points in Tuesday's overtime win at Tennessee.

Kentucky didn't have any trouble against Indiana, a team that beat Notre Dame. The Wildcats limited the Hoosiers to only 41 points and won by 39 points.

"Indiana-Kentucky is a huge game," Thomas said. "We saw what they did. We weren't shocked because we felt it should not have been a game with us and Indiana. We were playing too loose and didn't establish our offense. Our defense was shaky then."

Thomas knows Kentucky point guard Cliff Hawkins' defense will be anything but shaky when the teams play Sunday in South Bend, Ind. Hawkins helped limit Thomas to 4-for-17 shooting overall in UK's 88-73 win in Rupp Arena last year.

"Cliff is very good. He had a lot of guts to take that big shot (against Tennessee) that allowed them to win the game," Thomas said. "He's a good player, but they are not a one-person team. I don't know if you would say he runs the show, but he is a huge asset to that team. He gets into the lane, he gets into guards and he's improved his passing a lot."

Thomas says this will be Notre Dame's "best test" of the season and that the Irish would like nothing better than to finally win a home game on national television.

"We feel like we have not done anything at home yet this whole season," Thomas said. "We've got to make it a group effort to play well at home and establish an identity at home.

"We need a win against a Kentucky, UConn, Syracuse or Pitt for our sake. We need it just to secure in the back of our minds that we deserve to be in the (NCAA) tournament and get better recognition throughout the country. We don't need to win to prove just that we are good, but we need to win to prove it to ourselves."

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