Louisville — Youth was served as Kentucky beat Notre Dame 72-58 Wednesday night in the SEC-Big East Invitational in Freedom Hall.
UK's freshman-oriented team outperformed Notre Dame, which started five seniors. Tied 40-40 at halftime, the Cats scored the first six points of the second half and kept Notre Dame in catch-up mode.
Freshmen Terrence Jones and Brandon Knight led UK with 27 and 20 points, respectively.
"Neither of those guys played like freshmen," Notre Dame Coach Mike Brey said.
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Kentucky improved to 6-2 heading into Saturday's game against Indiana.
Notre Dame, which lost for the first time after opening the season with eight victories, got 21 points from guard Ben Hansbrough. Hans brough, the younger brother of former North Carolina All-American Tyler Hansbrough, scored only two in the second half when Kentucky seized control.
"They really took Ben away," Brey said of a UK defense that limited Hansbrough to 0-for-5 shooting and the Irish to 6-for-30 in the second half. "They face-guarded him. That's probably the most size and length and intensity we've played against."
Notre Dame missed 14 of its first 15 shots to start the second half. In that span, Kentucky established a 53-44 lead and set a course for victory.
"We played it almost like a box-and-one," UK Coach John Calipari said of cooling off Hansbrough in the second half. "He was incredible."
An entertaining first half left Kentucky and Notre Dame where they began: tied and wondering whether the youngsters or the wily veterans would win.
Hansbrough led Notre Dame with 19 points, leaving him six shy of a career high with 20 minutes to go. Coming off a career-high 24-point game against Indiana State on Nov. 30, he hit five of seven three-point shots as UK tried to cool him off with a revolving door of defenders (DeAndre Liggins, Knight, Stacey Poole, Doron Lamb and Jones).
"You know, you just ride a guy like that," Brey said of Hansbrough's 7-for-10 shooting in the first half.
Until Hansbrough got hot, Kentucky had the edge. With Jones seemingly intent on erasing his 3-for-17 struggle at North Carolina on Saturday, the Cats zipped to an early 12-6 lead. Jones scored four of those points en route to a 12-point half.
When asked whether he sought to make amends for the off game at North Carolina, Jones said, "A lot. I thought of supporting my team and doing every little thing to make up for a loss."
Hansbrough didn't score until making a fast-break layup with 14:55 left in the first half. That opened up a floodgate. Two three-pointers in the next two minutes marked 11 straight points for Hansbrough.
Later in the half, he swished an NBA-length three-pointer over Jones.
Notre Dame stretched its lead to nine, 38-27, with 4:44 left. Unlikely sources helped the Cats stay close. Jon Hood, a 1-for-6 three-point shooter coming into the game, hit a trey from the left corner. Poole scored his first points of the season, a three-pointer from the top of the key.
Kentucky rallied as Notre Dame scored only two free throws the rest of the half. Knight, who had 11 first-half points, knotted the score at 40 with a driving shot, before which he looked back to Calipari as if to ask what play to run. The UK coach motioned for Knight to take his man off the dribble, which he did to tie it with 54.1 seconds left.
"The momentum we lost really hurt us," Brey said of UK's rally late in the half. "Knight off the dribble really hurt us. Kentucky certainly had great momentum."
Kentucky built a 46-40 lead inside the first three minutes of the second half. After missing its first five shots, Notre Dame called time with 16:54 left.
UK's largest lead to that point came when Darius Miller hit a three-pointer to make it 49-42. The shot, which came with 13:29 left, marked his first basket.
As Notre Dame kept missing shots, Kentucky slowly expanded its lead. The margin grew to 56-46 with 8:52 left when Liggins swished a three-pointer. Harrellson, who again got in early foul trouble, made it possible by rebounding a miss by Jones.
Despite making only three baskets in the first 14 minutes of the second half, Notre Dame kept playing hard. The Irish got as close as 57-53 down the stretch.
Luck was with Kentucky. Leading 62-57, Notre Dame missed four straight shots, the fourth a wide-open three-pointer by Carleton Scott.
When Jones swished a three-pointer at the other end, UK led 65-57 with two minutes left.