UK's 'psyche' worries Notre Dame coach

January 23, 2004|LARRY VAUGHT

Not having a star player might present some drawbacks for the University of Kentucky, but it also creates a dilemma for opposing coaches.

"This is a tough group to prepare for in that they expect to win and have won a championship," said Notre Dame coach Mike Brey Thursday. "On the road at Mississippi State and at Tennessee they were flat-out dead in the water, and they still figured they would win.

"Preparing for that psyche is more difficult than any skill level out there. You have a group that believes it can win on the road. You have a group that plays well together. The one thing about them is that they find a way to get it done. It is an older group that has been through a lot together, and they stick together well and win."

Notre Dame (9-5) will host No. 9 Kentucky (12-2) Sunday, and Brey hopes his team can stop all the Wildcats from scoring in transition.


"I hope we can get them into a little bit of a (scoring) drought. I know they've not shot great in league play, but a lot of people don't," Brey said. "I hope we can make them play against our half-court defense more than anything else. If they get in transition, that's when they really get rolling. We don't want it to be a track meet with them.

"They get their spurts in transition. They really change ends well and their big guys really run. Defensive rebounds, beating you down the floor and turning you over are big parts of their offense. If you limit that, which several teams have, then you have a chance. But that's a big if."

Kentucky is coming off a 69-68 overtime win at Tennessee. The game before the Cats lost at home to Georgia and before that UK scored in the final second to win at Mississippi State.

Coach Tubby Smith said Sunday's non-conference game will test his team's focus.

"You don't follow their team on a weekly or daily basis," Smith said. "That's the adjustment the players have to make going from focusing on guys they see at (Southeastern Conference) Media Day and guys they hear about because of media coverage regarding the conference.

"When you step outside of the league it does help measure how teams play in other conferences. It's a chance to step out against some talented players and see how you do."

Teams will not play each other next year

The Cats have won nine straight games against Notre Dame, including three in a row since the series was renewed in 2001. This is the last year of that contract and Brey said Thursday that the series might start again in the future, but not next year.

"When you look at the series, it's been pretty one-sided," Brey said. "They have a heck of a program. We have to play grown up. Sunday is a challenge to play a little bit older. We did that at Pittsburgh. We didn't win, but we put ourselves in position to win."

Brey said he was encouraged with the way Notre Dame handled Virginia Tech's press Tuesday during its road win. He says having sophomore guard Chris Quinn to help point guard Chris Thomas, who had nine turnovers in last year's loss at Kentucky, should help the Irish against UK's pressure.

"There's no question Kentucky's full-court pressure is something they do well, and we have to handle the basketball," Brey said. "This year we do have two ballhandlers on the court most of the time, which we didn't have last year, and that can take pressure off one guy, or the wrong guy, handling the ball.

"But Kentucky's defense is good. They have athletic bodies to get into you, pressure you and even be physical. They can hand-check and move you around on the floor."

Notre Dame's defensive philosophy is a little different.

"We are not going to chase you around, press you and turn you over," the Notre Dame coach said. "But we can play better position defense."

Tom Timmermans, a 6-11 senior center, has helped Notre Dame's interior defense since returning from an injury.

"He gives us a physical presence, and he's a great help-side defender," Brey said. "He kind of plugs the lane for us. He gives us more of an anchor in the lane. Our perimeter guys have also got better at containing guys and not getting beat off the dribble. We will concede the jump shot as long as we challenge it, but not getting beat off the dribble."

Kentucky had trouble scoring the final 20 minutes against Tennessee Tuesday after building a 45-30 lead. Smith credited Tennessee's more aggressive defense for most of UK's woes Thursday even though he criticized officials after the game and said UK was not getting the calls it "deserved" on his radio show.

"Now we just have to worry about Notre Dame, a team that had tough losses to Syracuse and Pitt. It's tough to play at Notre Dame, and we've just got to play better and smarter in order to win," Smith said.

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