SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP)—Everyone makes a run against Kentucky.
Austin Peay did it. So did Vanderbilt, Mississippi State and Tennessee.
Notre Dame did on Sunday, but the ninth-ranked Wildcats held on for a 71-63 victory, the fifth time in its last six wins Kentucky has let an opponent back in the game after leading by double digits.
“It is something we have to work on,” said Erik Daniels, who scored all eight of his points in the first half. “We have to put teams away. That way we can get better.”
Notre Dame (9-6), which trailed by as many as 15 points in the first half, used a 7-0 run to cut the lead to 66-63 when Chris Quinn made two free throws with 67 seconds left. But the Irish missed their final two shots and Kentucky (13-2) scored the final five points.
Despite the familiar pattern, Kentucky coach Tubby Smith was pleased.
“We did not have extended droughts offensively or defensively,” he said. “We did not have any major defensive breakdowns except not boxing out. Otherwise, we had about as complete a game as we have had in some time.”
Chuck Hayes scored 17 of his 21 points in the second half and Gerald Fitch added 15 points to lead the Wildcats to their 10th straight win over the Irish. The Wildcats, who shot 53 percent, dominated inside, scoring 44 points in the paint.
“They let us do that when we wanted to and it worked real well for us,” said Kelenna Azubuike, who added 14 points for the Wildcats.
Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said the Irish were simply no match for the Wildcats.
“Kentucky has talented guys who are quick-footed and good passers,” he said. “There were some sequences where they just flat out beat us physically.”
Torrian Jones and Chris Thomas each had 16 points for the Irish, who have lost three of their last four. All three losses were to ranked teams—a three-point loss at No. 8 Pittsburgh and an 11-point loss to No. 13 Syracuse.
Tom Timmermans added 10 points for the Irish, who shot 39 percent. Torin Francis grabbed 12 rebounds as Notre Dame had a 38-31 rebounding advantage.
Notre Dame held a 30-year reunion at halftime for the 1973-74 squad that ended UCLA’s NCAA record win streak at 88 games, and former coach Digger Phelps exhorted the crowd at halftime with the Irish trailing 39-29. But the Irish couldn’t pull off another big upset.
Notre Dame cut the lead to 47-40 on Jones’ rebound basket 4 minutes into the second half. But Hayes quickly answered with four points. The Irish made one last run, but Jordan Cornette missed a shot inside and Thomas badly missed a 17-foot jumper. The Wildcats went 3-of-4 from the line and Azubuike scored on a dunk with 3 seconds left.
“We did the things we had to do to get the win,” Smith said. “We played with a lot of energy and we played together.”