Notre Dame forward Jack Cooley celebrates after the team's 64-50 victory over Kentucky in an NCAA college basketball game Thursday, Nov. 29, 2012, in South Bend, Ind. (AP Photo/Joe Raymond)
Updated: January 1, 2013 6:37AM
SOUTH BEND — Scott Martin walked calmly off the court after Notre Dame’s 64-50 victory over Kentucky with a rush of steamy fans cheering lustily at his back.
They had all spilled out of the stands, thinking perhaps that the Irish had just done something really special.
One of the young guys, Cameron Biescheid, a spindly 6-6 freshman whom Mike Brey had upbraided after he pulled him out of the game earlier for taking a lousy shot, was squarely in the arms of an Irish student. He was new. He had never done the celebration thing before. He will be forgiven for partaking in the premature celebration. One day he will be old and he will learn.
Martin shook Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick’s hand as he made a beeline to the locker room.
Ho, hum, just another win. A sweet win. A huge win for the fans and for the program but not an unexpected victory at all for the Irish players and coaches. They expect to beat teams at home, even defending national champions with Wildcats plastered on the back on their jerseys. Kentucky was ranked eighth in the Associated Press poll and ND not at all.
It’s early — the polls are wrong. The Wildcats aren’t very good yet.
Knowing what he did about his team and about what he expected, there was no way Martin was going to be part of the over-the-top celebration. Let the fans have their moment, however unintentionally embarrassing it was. He was going to get some ice and find an easy chair.
“I’m old and my knee hurt,” he said. “I figured I’d get out the way. I got to experience that last year. Obviously, it wasn’t a huge upset. In our mind, we were closely matched.”
In fact, they weren’t that closely matched at all and it really wasn’t an upset at all.
It’s pretty simple. The idea that this was some kind of epic matchup between a storied program (Kentucky) and a giant killer (Notre Dame) was just an idea.
The Wildcats have a boat load of young talent. But that’s what it is. Young talent. Immature talent. Players who are prone to fall for the countless ball fakes and endless picks and rolls that the Irish can exhaust a team with. Players who have no idea how good Notre Dame is at Purcell (41-1 in the last 42 games).
Players who could, as Kentucky coach John Calipari said, play pretty good defense for 25 seconds and then forget about the last 10.
That is about when the Irish would get ready to strike.
For Calipari, it was a frustrating evening. He didn’t necessarily expect to win but he did expect his guys to not get beat for the loose balls.
He expected them to play hard and compete.
He expected way more in the effort department.
He didn’t get it. What they got instead was an old fashioned butt whipping.
“This wasn’t two teams battling and Notre Dame wins,” Calipari said. “This was them grinding us out. That’s what we usually do and then them beating us by whatever they wanted to.”
For the Wildcats, this piece of humble pie could become a regular affair.
Calipari complained about coaching a new team every year but the grumbling is hypocritical. His goal is to recruit guys that are all good enough to play in the NBA.
He wants a team full of one-and-done guys and, in Kentucky, he has the basketball capital to get those type of players.
It’s a spectacular high-risk, high-reward strategy — one that can easily lead to nights where the Wildcats look like a Division II school when compared to the poise and experience of an older team like Notre Dame.
Notre Dame coach Mike Brey called it a fun night. But it wasn’t a historic night. It just meant that the old guys were better this time. Much better.