KENTUCKY at NOTRE DAME (-1.5, 134)
Kentucky has had a chance to fix several of the things that went wrong in its loss to Duke earlier this month, starting with an offense that struggled to push the pace. The eighth-ranked Wildcats have averaged 95.3 points in three straight wins since that loss to the Blue Devils, and have gone over the century mark twice. They will test that explosive offense against a higher caliber of competition when they visit Notre Dame on Thursday.
Unlike freshman-dominated Kentucky, the Fighting Irish rely heavily on upperclassmen and returned all five starters from a team that won 22 games last season. That experience and familiarity has helped Notre Dame execute in the half court and on the defensive end en route to four straight wins. The Wildcats will try to get out and run, using their superior athleticism to make up the difference in experience. Their big challenge will be stopping Irish forward Jack Cooley, who is averaging a double-double while shooting over 60 percent from the field.
LINE: Some books have moved Kentucky up to -2 as of Thursday morning.
TV: 7 p.m. ET, ESPN2.
ABOUT KENTUCKY (4-1): The SEC/Big East Challenge will provide the Wildcats with a better approximation of their growth than wins over Louisiana-Lafayette, Morehead State and Long Island University-Brooklyn. Kentucky rebuilt over the summer with a strong recruiting class and has watched those players come together over the last three games. Guard Archie Goodwin came within one rebound and one assist of a triple-double in the 104-75 win over LIU-Brooklyn on Friday while Alex Poythress has gone for 20 or more in four straight games. Nerlens Noel continues to fill up the box score in much the same way that Michael Kidd-Gilchrist did for last season’s national championship squad.
ABOUT NOTRE DAME (6-1): The Irish suffered an overtime loss to St. Joe’s during the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic earlier this month but have recovered nicely, especially on the defensive end. Notre Dame is allowing just 58.3 points during its four-game winning streak. Six players scored in double figures in Monday’s 92-65 win over Chicago State, led by Jerian Grant’s 22 points and 10 assists. The Irish are so balanced offensively that Cooley only had four field goal attempts (making all four) in the win. That efficiency is made possible by the backcourt duo of Grant and Eric Atkins, who have a combined assist-to-turnover ratio of 3.08.
1. Kentucky G Ryan Harrow (illness) has not played since the opener but returned to practice this week.
2. The Wildcats beat Notre Dame 72-58 in Louisville in the last meeting on Dec. 8, 2010.
3. The Fighting Irish are averaging 19 assists as a team.