John Clay: Cats stake claim in Louisville

LOUISVILLE — With just under a minute left, and the outcome all but decided, a fan sitting near the front row at Freedom Hall could take it no longer.

"WE OWN THIS TOWN!!!!" he yelled.

For one night, anyway, Louisville did in fact become Blueville.

Never mind that the hometown Cardinals were playing downtown in their shiny new home. Out at the Fairgrounds, the floor was painted blue, the crowd was all Kentucky, and the Irish, after a hot first half, turned as cold as the weather outside.

The result was a 72-58 Kentucky win on Wednesday night in the SEC/Big East Invitational, though.

Yes, the KFC Yum Center is new and shiny, but there's still a certain charm to the old barn off Crittenden Drive. It's an old-school basketball palace, with a low ceiling, good viewing lines, a shooter's background, and nothing resembling a Bourbon bar.

And the Cats won this one old-school. After seeing Notre Dame's Ben Hansbrough go nuts in the first half, draining multiple three-pointers on this way to 19 points in the first 20 minutes, John Calipari's club came out with the second-half clamps.

Notre Dame scored just 18 points in the second half. The experienced Irish missed a few good looks, but it had to struggle to find and make baskets. Hansbrough found none. He hit just two free throws. After shooting 56 percent the first half, Notre Dame made just six of 30 shots for 20 percent the second half.

Meanwhile, over on the offensive end, Terrence Jones looked wide awake, thank you. Criticized for napping before and maybe even during UK's loss to North Carolina last Saturday, this night he was into it from the start, especially the second half.

"He's an amazing talent," said Notre Danme Coach Mike Brey.

As Jones goes, so goes the Cats. He ended up with 27 points and 17 rebounds. He also contributed three assists. Saturday, he was 3-for-17, and Kentucky lost. This night, he was 9-for-18, and Kentucky won.

"He plays with a nice poise for a young guy," Brey said. "That three he hit from the corner was a big shot."

That triple came with 4:33 left and extended the Kentucky lead to 60-53. The crowd, loving the fact Freedom Hall belongs to the blue, went nuts. Then when the Irish inched back to 62-57, Jones buried another triple, this from the left wing with 2:01 left to put the lead back out to eight.

"Those two freshmen," said Brey of Jones and Brandon Knight (20 points), "didn't play like freshmen."

By the way, those two freshmen were the only two UK players to crack double figures.

"That's the best Brandon has run the team," Calipari said. "We need him to run the team like he did tonight."

Down the line, both Saturday's loss at Chapel Hill and this Wednesday win over a Big East foe are invaluable. It was also invaluable coming off a loss. Jones said Calipari had told them his previous teams won by 20-25 points coming off a loss.

"We didn't want to lose because of that," said the freshman.

It was also invaluable rising to the expectations of the Louisville crowd, which loved not only seeing the Cats play in the River City, but play a good, competitive opponent, not a so-so foe just to have a game in Freedom Hall.

"I thought the atmosphere was great," said Brey.

"This was a road game for them," said Calipari in complimenting Notre Dame's fight.

"The fans being into it, being all blue, it felt like a home game," said Jones.

On this night, UK played like it was home, sweet home.

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