He’s played against Kentucky, and he’s played at Freedom Hall. Yet Notre Dame senior guard Ben Hansbrough says tonight’s game against the Wildcats is still a game he’s looking forward to.
“Kentucky always has a great team, so any game against Kentucky is going to be special,” said Hansbrough. “I’m really looking forward to it.”
The Irish play UK in the Big East/SEC Invitational in Freedom Hall tonight. Hansbrough played three times against UK when he was a freshman and sophomore at Mississippi State before he transferred to Notre Dame for his final two seasons. He didn’t face UK last year, but he did play against Louisville in Freedom Hall.
“Kentucky is a little different now than when I played them before,” Hansbrough said.
The game in 2008 was during coach Billy Gillispie’s first season at Kentucky. However, Hansbrough noted that UK had Jodie Meeks, Patrick Patterson, Ramel Bradley and Joe Crawford that season and did make the NCAA Tournament.
“I was just a sophomore then, too, but Kentucky was good,” Hansbrough, the younger brother of former North Carolina all-American Tyler Hansbrough, said. “This time I am a senior and have more of a leadership role on the team.
“I think experience is a big edge in anything you do. Kentucky has great athletic ability, but we have seniors that are used to playing together. Hopefully that will help us.”
He says he “loved” playing in Freedom Hall, but wouldn’t buy into the theory that Freedom Hall has “shooters’ rims.” Hansbrough averages a team-high 15.8 points per game and hits 54.8 percent (23-for-42) from 3-point range. He also has a team-high 20 assists.
“I think we understand more about how to win as a team this year,” Hansbrough said. “Our biggest key is just to play as a team. If a guy is not getting 20 points, he doesn’t try to go out and force things. We have a lot of scoring options, something that is a rarity in college.”
The undefeated Irish have six players averaging between 7.4 and 15.8 points per game and are scoring 81.8 points per game. Eight players average 10 or more minutes per game.
Hansbrough knows Kentucky guards Brandon Knight and Doron Lamb are both prolific scorers, even if they are freshmen, and that junior DeAndre Liggins has the ability to drive inside.
“Coach (John) Calipari always has great guards. That’s nothing new,” Hansbrough said. “He does a great job putting together an offense like he always does. They try to get in the lane one-on-one. We will be ready for that. We see that quite a bit in the Big East.”
Notre Dame is unbeaten and Hansbrough says that is no accident, even though the Irish lost key players off last year’s NCAA team.
“We have seniors that are very good players,” he said. “We are a different team this year, but we set very high goals. We want to continue to achieve great things.
“Kentucky is the next big game on our schedule because it is the next game. But we know a win like this could be big in March (for tournament seeding). Every win is that way, but with a name team like Kentucky it is probably even a little more important.”