And there it is. The blueprint.  The road map to victory against this year’s Kentucky team, materializing at the Joyce Center in South Bend Saturday afternoon, where Irish eyes were smiling after Notre Dame’s 66-62 victory.

The Irish dared certain Kentucky players to shoot from beyond the arc and hoped others would miss, which they did.  And when their shots went awry, Notre Dame players went after them.  ALL the ND players, or so it seemed.

The Fighting Irish fought harder on the boards, out-rebounding the nation’s best rebounding team, 33-28.  Oscar Tshiebwe, the nation’s best individual glass-cleaner, finished with only seven, which is eight below his average, in a game where he was not shackled by foul trouble. But he didn’t have much help.

Eight other Wildcats hauled in a total of 21 rebounds. And they contributed only 37 points; Tshiebwe himself poured in 25. Keion Brooks was next in line with 12; with the game on the line, inside the final seconds with Notre Dame up two, it was TyTy Washington who took Kentucky’s final shot.

It wasn’t a bad attempt as Washington got to the baseline but his shot never had much of a chance and as it bounced away, there was a familiar sight — Tshiebwe doing his best to corral the carom and no other blue jerseys nearby. And with precious time ticking away, no Kentucky player tried to foul.

Oscar Tshiebwe scored 25 points but was well below his average of 15 rebounds in the loss at Notre Dame

Whenever Sahvir Wheeler had the ball at least 15 feet from the bucket, the Irish fell away.  He ended up 0-for-5 from the floor with only two assists and two turnovers. Notre Dame cut off the head of the snake and the Wildcats couldn’t figure out how to compensate.

Unfortunately, the veteran guards in John Calipari’s rotation couldn’t provide enough help.  Kellen Grady finished with eight points on hitting 3-of-8 shooting. He hit 2-of-7 from behind the arc, Kentucky’s only three-pointers of the afternoon.

Davion Mintz missed all five of his trey attempts for a UK team that was 2-of-19 from downtown, 23-of 36 from two-point range. “Our guards were not good,” John Calipari said in something of an understatement. 

The Irish hit 7-of-22 from distance, most of them seemingly of the “catch & shoot” variety, a characteristic of the Notre Dame offense that Calipari mentioned first in his pre-game show when asked what concerned him about his opponent. 

And still they won, snapping UK’s seven-game winning streak over “tune-up” teams and blunting the Wildcats’ opportunity to sweep three straight games that could come in handy when it’s time to seed the NCAA tournament.

Yes, that’s a mention of the Big Dance here in the second week of December. That’s what happens when the non-conference portion of a team’s schedule includes some of the weakest opponents Division I has to offer.

The Wildcats have two more chances, before Southeastern Conference play begins, to score high-profile, non-conference wins that could help boost its strength-of-schedule and RPI numbers. And of course, there’s the trip to Kansas in late January that will be, simultaneously, a great opportunity and a brutal challenge.

But now the word is out (as if it weren’t already): Sell out to keep Oscar Tshiebwe from racking up big board numbers, don’t give Grady open looks and keep Washington from being creative.

Not easy, to be sure, but keep in mind that Notre Dame was on nobody’s pre-season list to make the Final Four and with all due respect, probably still isn’t. And yet, the Irish own the upset win over 10th-ranked Kentucky.

Their eyes are smiling.

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