Date story was published: Sunday, December 2, 1990
INDIANAPOLIS -- After two artistically flawed performances to start the season, unbeaten Kentucky won with style yesterday.
The Wildcats pressed and ran -- Coach Rick Pitino's signature strategies -- and wore down Notre Dame 98-90 in the Big Four Classic.
By contrast, UK's first two victories were a sloppy exhibition-like exercise over Penn and a turnover-plagued test of survival at Cincinnati.
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Notre Dame, 2-4 after suffering a fourth straight defeat, led 38-28 with barely two minutes left in the first half.
When UK closed to within two points by intermission, the Cats had reason to believe a third victory was there for the taking.
"Pressing, running teams take over in the second half," Pitino said. "Teams come out mentally ready for pressure. But as the game goes on, they don't run the ball to their hands as much. They don't split the traps as much. It takes over in the second half."
Kentucky's up-tempo style did, helping UK take the lead for good with 15 minutes to go. The Cats methodically ground down the Fighting Irish.
"The way our style goes, people will score on you and get some baskets," said Richie Farmer, who led UK with 19 points off the bench. "You kept forcing the tempo. You'll get your runs."
UK made its charge late in the first half with senior star Reggie Hanson, precocious freshman Jamal Mashburn and point guard Sean Woods on the bench with two fouls each.
On the floor for Kentucky were freshman Gimel Martinez, Deron Feldhaus, John Pelphrey, Jeff Brassow and Farmer.
"It doesn't matter the talent level," Farmer said of UK's missing stars, "as long as who's in there is playing hard, pressing hard, making steals and concentrating and playing your style."
Notre Dame did not fare so well in an assessment of who was -- and was not -- in the game. Point guard Tim Singleton, Notre Dame's lone senior, left the game with 8:12 left in the first half.
Singleton, third on Notre Dame's all-time assist list, was dribbling against soft pressure from Feldhaus in the backcourt when he went to the floor clutching his back.
"I didn't touch him," Feldhaus said. "I did not touch him at all. It was a freak thing."
It was also a fortunate thing for Kentucky.
"It helped," Feldhaus said. "He's the leader of their ballclub."
Singleton did not return to the game. Doctors would evaluate Singleton's condition when the team returned to South Bend, Coach Digger Phelps said.
In his post-game news conference, Pitino said the Cats would have preferred Singleton stay in the game. UK needed to double-down on the low post against LaPhanso Ellis, and Singleton was the best player to leave open to shoot on the perimeter, Pitino said.
Elmer Bennett, normally Notre Dame's shooting guard, lamented Singleton's loss. Bennett split point-guard duties with freshman Brooks Boyer.
"We had to execute against the press," Bennett said, "and we've got only one player really experienced against that thing."
During its rally late in the first half, Kentucky induced Boyer into a charge.
Three-point shooting and a miraculous shot by Farmer sparked Kentucky's rally to within two, 40-38, by halftime.
The Cats missed 11 of their first 16 three-point attempts, but Pelphrey sandwiched two around a Farmer jumper to cut Notre Dame's lead to 38-36.
With Notre Dame ahead 40-36 and the clock winding down, Farmer found himself on the low post against 6-foot-9 Ellis.
Somehow, with no dribble left and little time to pass outside and start over, Farmer improvised a left-handed hook shot that went in.
"I prayed a lot," Farmer said, laughing. "I had to switch over to my left hand a little bit. I'm just glad it went in."
Ellis did not say anything, Farmer said, "but Pelphrey said, 'Good shot. Great shot!' "
Farmer's miracle punctuated a critical two-minute period for Notre Dame, Bennett said.
"We should have kept pounding them," Bennett said. "We let them hit some three-pointers and they were right back in it."
Three-pointers haunted Notre Dame in the second half. The Cats made five of eight attempts, including a trey by Brassow that gave UK the lead for good at 53-50 with 15:03 left.
A minute later, Phelps called a timeout after Farmer made another three- pointer that gave Kentucky a 56-52 lead.
Red-faced, Phelps exhorted his team to challenge UK's three-point shooters. Notre Dame held Kentucky to 15 three-point attempts last March. Yesterday, the Cats put 18 up in the first-half alone.
While trying to patch the three-point hole, Notre Dame sprang another leak.
Kentucky's pressure kept wearing on a Notre Dame team down to five starters and four freshmen.
"One of the things we wanted to do was get to their bench," Pelphrey said. "That's where we had an advantage with our full-court style. Their first five are very, very good. But after that, they lose a little quickness at guard."
Compounding the fatigue factor, Phelps had to resort to man-to-man defense to guard the perimeter.
During a timeout with 11:04 left, UK decided to spread the floor and give Woods, its best open-floor one-on-one player, room to operate.
Woods scored eight of his 13 points in the final 8:07.
"They went to man-to-man and that gave me an opportunity to go to the basket," Woods said.
When Notre Dame closed to within four, 81-77, Woods hit a free throw, then whipped a pass to Hanson for a three-point play.
"Woods definitely was the key," Notre Dame forward Kevin Ellery said. "He handled the ball well and ran the team. He penetrated and drove to the hole well. If you played the penetration, he kicked it to a three-point shooter. And they'll hit that shot."