NIT: Notre dame 77, Kentucky 67

UK's season ends at Notre Dame

jtipton@herald-leader.comMarch 26, 2009 

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — If Notre Dame's 77-67 victory Wednesday night brought down the curtain on the Billy Gillispie Era, it ended with a few familiar touches: a head-scratching Jodie Meeks performance, a blizzard of three-pointers by the opposition and a heavy reliance on two scorers.

Meeks took only three shots in the first 27 minutes of this National Invitation Tournament quarterfinal game. Then he poured in 18 points in less than nine minutes.

But that blitz only got Kentucky close. The season ended with a 22-14 record and one overriding question: Will Billy Gillispie be back as coach?

UK President Lee Todd attended the game. He declined to comment on Gillispie's job status, but he did say he spoke with the coach about the future of the program late last week.

Todd also said an announcement on the future of the program and its coach would not be made before Friday.

Gillispie deflected questions about whether he'll be UK coach next season.

"My expectation is to work hard every day," he said.

Kentucky worked hard to beat Notre Dame and advance to the NIT semifinals next week in New York.

But Notre Dame (21-14) had too much long-range sharpshooting. The Irish made 12 three-pointers (only in five games this season had Notre Dame made more).

Combined with All-America candidate Luke Harangody's 30 points, it was too much for Gillispie's second Kentucky team to overcome.

"We really learned to compete," Gillispie said of this season. "We really, really, really, really played hard. Nothing went right for us. Our guys kept fighting and fighting."

As became customary this season, Meeks and Patrick Patterson were UK's only double-digit scoring threats. Meeks led the Cats with 21 points. Patterson added 18.

Three Notre Dame players joined Harangody in double figures. Kyle McAlarney had 15, Ryan Ayers 14 and Tory Jackson 10.

Kentucky never led, trailing by as many as 10 points in the first half and 16 with less than 10 minutes left.

Defended by Patterson, Harangody scored 11 of his 13 first-half points inside the first seven minutes. That gave the Irish an early lead.

"I was excited," Patterson said of competing against a fellow star mano a mano. "I knew he was a tremendous player. I was just anxious. He caught the ball a little too easy. I wasn't moving my feet enough."

Gillispie said he planned to contain Harangody with double teams later in the game. "But we never got the opportunity because they had so many three-point shooters."

Notre Dame, which came into the game ranked ninth nationally in three-pointers (8.8 per game) and 16th in shooting accuracy from beyond the arc (39.6 percent), hit 12 of 25.

Halftime did not dull Notre Dame's three-point shooting eye. The Irish hit three of their first four shots from beyond the arc after the break. A Harangody three-pointer put Notre Dame ahead 40-28 with 18:55 left.

Jonathan Peoples, a 28.3-percent shooter from three-point range this season, hit his second of the game to put the Irish lead at 43-31 with 16:16 left. That marked Notre Dame's 10th three-pointer of the game. Only nine times previously this season had the Irish made 10 or more three-pointers.

Five straight points by Harangody stretched the lead to 48-33, prompting a Kentucky timeout with 14:03 left.

All the while, Meeks (the nation's sixth-most prolific scorer with an average of 24.0 ppg) took only three shots in the game's first 27 minutes. Gillispie noted the season's mental and physical stress as a factor.

"I was a little bit (surprised he didn't shoot more)," said Ayers, one of four defenders who took a turn guarding Meeks. "I think my length kind of distracted him a little bit. ... We talked about trying to make him a two-point scorer. That was my theme going into it."

With Notre Dame ahead 50-35, Meeks took the initiative. In less than three minutes, he hit a pair of three-pointers and two free throws to keep UK's season breathing.

In all, Meeks scored 18 points in less than nine minutes. In that span, he made five of six shots (four of five from beyond the arc). But the blitz only reduced Kentucky's deficit to 66-60 with 3:28 left.

Unlike the Creighton free-throw giveaway on Monday night, Notre Dame made nine of 10 foul shots down the stretch to win the game and end Kentucky's season, and perhaps Gillispie's tenure as coach.

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