SOUTH BEND, Ind. - Julius Mays plopped down at a table in a room not far from where Notre Dame students and players were still dancing on the clover logo at center court, celebrating another Top 25 foe that couldn't escape the Joyce Center.
The Irish hounded the young Cats all night (Matt McCarty/TCP)
Having just logged a team-high 35 minutes in Kentucky's 64-50 loss in front of a charged-up sellout crowd, Mays didn't need to search for reasons the Wildcats scored the fewest points in the John Calipari era. This one was simple.
“We just got out-competed from start to finish,” Mays said. “We didn't play hard. They competed harder than we did and wanted it more than we did. They played hard on offense. They played harder on defense. All around they competed harder than we did.”
Mays was perhaps the only UK player who answered the bell, scoring a team-high 16 points and routinely sticking his nose in the middle of the fray. Not coincidentally, the senior guard is the only player who has logged a significant amount of minutes at the collegiate level.
The result was only the second double-digit loss for a Calipari coached team at Kentucky. The Cats trailed by as many as 20 midway through the second half before a late Mays' flurry of three-pointers helped them avoid setting a new largest margin of defeat under Calipari.
“I kind of expected that we wouldn't play (well),” Calipari said. “This is the first time out of the gate. What disappointed me is we didn't compete. They beat us to balls. They beat us around the basket. They, you know, we just didn't compete. We didn't execute. We didn't play together. There were a lot of things that went out the window.”
Make no mistake, this was a treacherous place for Kentucky to have its first true road game of the season. The Cats came into a venue where the home team had won 40 of its past 41 games and had won all 45 games played in November under coach Mike Brey. The Irish trotted out all of its big guns too, utilizing a 'Black Out' complete with black uniforms and multiple presentations to its No. 1 ranked football team that will play for the BCS Championship in January.
The Cats got off to a solid start but were soon swallowed whole by a veteran team that turned the game into a slugfest instead of a track meet.
“I thought we played like an experienced group,” Brey said. “Our guards were fabulous controlling the tempo of things.
“I've had teams in that situation, never that young, but it can make you play a little fast if you're young. It can make you take quick shots. It can rattle you a little bit. I think it did that. Our crowd was definitely our sixth man. That crowd was electric. It was a tough atmosphere to play in and when it's like that I don't care if you're young or old it's probably going to be tough in there.”
More troubling to Calipari was the lack of fight his team showed outside of Mays and perhaps freshman forward Nerlens Noel. Archie Goodwin was out of control for much of the night and Alex Poythress got in early trouble and never got involved.
“My whole thing is you can play poorly but you can still defend and compete,” Calipari said. “In other words, two teams battling each other and Notre Dame wins. That's not what this was. This was Notre Dame throwing around Kentucky and winning by as many as they needed to win by. That's what the game was. I'm disappointed.
“It was obvious they needed help today and obviously they didn't get it from me because we weren't very good.”
Kentucky won't take to the road again until Dec. 29 but that game will come 75 miles down the road against rival Louisville, who surely won't have any sympathy for a young team.
“I think we all better get used to it,” Mays said of life on the road. “This is going to be a night-in, night-out basis. It's going to be like this everywhere we go.”