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CATS REV IT UP, ROUT IRISH 80-56

Date story published: Sunday, December 15, 1996

Jared Prickett said Friday he had no regrets about signing out of high school with Kentucky rather than Notre Dame. He spent last night showing why the Irish should regret that decision.

Prickett provided one of few highlights in UK's lackluster first half. Believe it or not, he swished a three-pointer. "Hey, I make them in Individual Instruction every day," he said a bit defensively. "It's not a big deal. It's not a miracle."

Prickett made another trey in the second half, giving him three in a season for the first time and improving his career accuracy to 8-for-46. But it was his steal and driving dunk after intermission that helped ignite the Cats' 80-56 victory.

No. 3 Kentucky used a 17-0 run early in the second half to put away a surprisingly competitive Notre Dame. The Irish hung tough by slowing the pace, a strategy helped mightily by UK's poor first-half shooting.

"We took the first available open shot and then never got our players in position to rebound," Pitino said. "We just were off. I really have no complaint about our shot selection. I told them at halftime, we're going to have our run if we get to the second or third options. Shot selection. Ball movement. Passing. That leads to our press. In the second half, we ran our offense much quicker."

The Cats (7-1) led only 29-20 at the break. But a quick start in the second half led to the inevitable. Kentucky was simply too good. As UK exercised its superiority (and matched Notre Dame's physical play), the Irish slowdown became self-defeating. The Irish fell to 3-3.

"Grunt game" was the term Pitino used . "A very physical game. About as physical as it gets for basketball."

The rough stuff reached WWF proportions midway through the second half when Derek Manner clipped Anderson as UK's leading scorer soared toward what looked like a driving dunk. Anderson crashed to the court.

"Hey, he's in the wrong sport, ain't he?" Anderson said. "I thought Lou Holtz left."

Prickett sprinkled memorable plays throughout the mayhem. His first-half three-pointer briefly awoke the crowd. His back-tip late in the half led to a Nazr Mohammed dunk and previewed the quicker second-half pace. His steal from Notre Dame star Pat Garrity - he ripped the ball free near mid-court - and driving dunk fueled the 17-0 breakout run.

"I don't know about that," Prickett said when asked about sparking the breakout. "I'm just happy I made the dunk, to tell you the truth. I missed one in practice this week and Coach yelled at me. I think they were getting skeptical of me."

Prickett finished with 14 points. Ron Mercer led UK with 21 points. Derek Anderson chipped in with 13 points, all in the second half.

Garrity led Notre Dame with 25 points, all but 10 coming after Kentucky built a 58-29 second-half lead.

Kentucky got "clocked" in the first half. Shot-clocked that is. More than 11 minutes into the game, the two teams had combined for 25 points. UK led 13-12.

Notre Dame showed early it hoped for a slow pace. On its third possession, sophomore Antoni Wyche passed up a wide-open three-point shot in transition. Instead, he held the ball and passed outside. The possession ended with a 35-second shot clock violation.

A slow-down strategy not only shortened the game - a necessity for a lightly regarded Notre Dame team ranked lower than Wright State in the latest Sagarin power ratings - it also lessened the severity of Garrity's two quick fouls. Garrity, who came into the game averaging 24 points, picked up his second foul at the 15:44 mark. With a slower pace, he was less likely to pick up a third foul in the half, and in fact didn't.

Kentucky's 13-for-36 first-half shooting included two unlikely baskets by Prickett. He hit from the top of the key and a third-pointer in a 43-second span.

"Three times during the game I yelled 'Bust it,'" Pitino said. "I told (associate coach) Jim O'Brien, 'Am I out of my mind? I'm now telling Jared Prickett to shoot the three.' He said, 'Yes, you're out of your mind.'"

Prickett's first three-pointer seemed to signal a long-expected UK breakout. It came near the end of a 9-2 run that gave the Cats a 22-14 lead.

But after Mercer completed the run with a jumper at the 6:07 mark, Kentucky went scoreless for more than three minutes. In that time, Notre Dame closed within 22-20.

A rare transition basket helped Kentucky outscore Notre Dame 7-0 in the final three minutes.

One play ignited the crowd. Prickett back-tipped the ball from Notre Dame. That led to a long pass that a crowd favorite, Mohammed, dunked.

The second half began with some welcomed firsts for Kentucky. Prickett's layup with 19:45 left gave UK its first double-digit lead, 31-20.

Thirty-seven seconds later, Anderson scored his first points: a three-pointer.

That seemed to cut Kentucky loose. Prickett stripped Garrity of the ball and drove for a dunk. Anderson hit again. A few moments later, UK had put together a 17-0 run.

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