Date story published: Sunday, January 19, 2003
Four times in the first six minutes, a Notre Dame team supposedly brimming with confidence took high-percentage shots. Each time a Kentucky defender swatted the shot away.
"It let them know they were going to be in for a real tough match," said Chuck Hayes, who contributed two rejections to UK's early block party. "Nothing was going to come easy. "Nothing did as Kentucky whipped No. 10 Notre Dame 88-73 yesterday at Rupp Arena.
Hayes contributed career-high points (17), rebounds (16) and blocks (three). If it was a hockey game, he would have been introduced afterward as its first star.
"It's impressive," the sophomore conceded when asked about his statistical line. "I knew I could do it all along. Hopefully, it will carry over to the next game."
In essence, the victory was about a collective Cat carryover. Repeating the formula that demolished Vanderbilt earlier in the week, Kentucky dominated inside offensively and tenaciously defended all over the court.
"I thought Kentucky found their identity as a team: How they were going to defend this year," Notre Dame Coach Mike Brey said of UK's comeback victory at Vandy. "They certainly did that to us today."
Kentucky, 13-3 and expected to improve on its No. 16 ranking, limited Notre Dame to its second-worst shooting performance of the season: 34.4 percent. Only the 31.7-percent shooting at Pittsburgh on Jan. 6 was worse.
"We rely on our offense to get us going sometimes," Brey said. "We couldn't get open looks. We couldn't get stuff around the basket. We got nothing in transition."
With star point guard Chris Thomas shooting 4-for-17 and committing a career-high nine turnovers, Notre Dame's offense was uglier than Kim Jong Il's haircut.
Conversely, Kentucky's offense purred, as evidenced by 52.3-percent shooting (the third-best accuracy against Notre Dame this season). Inside production told the tale: UK enjoyed a 54-20 advantage in points in the paint. After Notre Dame recovered from an early 16-point deficit to close to 38-30 at halftime, Kentucky went almost exclusively inside. UK's first eight baskets of the second half -- and 15 of its 17 baskets overall -- came from the lane.
Center Marquis Estill led the way, scoring 11 of UK's first 15 points to start the second half. Estill finished with 14 of his 18 points after intermission,
"Estill played like an All-American today," Notre Dame forward Matt Carroll said. "He was hitting his jump hook and playing a great all-around game."
Asked if he expected to dominate, Estill nodded and said simply, "Yeah."
The UK center knew he was going against a freshman, albeit a promising freshman, in Torin Francis. Plus, Estill enjoyed another edge. "They didn't trap down on the inside," he said.
"We looked for him early and we got the ball to him often," Smith said of Estill. "And he was able to make plays."
The Notre Dame coach gave Estill partial credit for Hayes' big numbers.
"I was worried about Estill the most," Brey said. "But their whole front line made inside stuff on us. You get worried about Estill, you turn your head and (Hayes) got stuff off that. He got some things in transition and he had some offensive rebounds."
In the first half at Vandy, Hayes had the puniest stat line of his or anyone else's career: No points, rebounds, assists, blocks or even turnovers. Nothing in seven minutes of action.
Hayes did not start the second half. "At halftime, there was a lot of soul-searching and a lot of self-talk," Hayes said. "I wanted to calm myself. 'You'll be OK. Just play hard.'"
Hayes scored 11 points and grabbed five rebounds in the second half against Vanderbilt.
The poor start in Nashville was on his mind against Notre Dame. He had nearly a double-double by halftime (nine points and nine rebounds).
"I didn't want to dig myself a hole," he said.
As Hayes repeatedly hopped like a full-bodied bobblehead during pre-game introductions, it was clear he was eager to play against Notre Dame.
"I just didn't want to come out too eager," he said. "Big game like this, nationally televised, why don't you want to be hyped up?"
After such a thorough victory, Hayes voiced the hope that the college basketball polls and public in general will be hyped about Kentucky.
"The last two games we've really shown the nation we're a good defensive team," he said. "We're scoring, too. We're capable of having five guys in double figures any given night.
"When we're playing well, people need to think about us."