Can The Hoosiers Pull Off Another Wildcat Upset?
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Later tonight, the Kentucky Wildcats will be matched against one of the few college basketball programs that can give them a run for fan passion and tradition, Indiana. Few fans get as worked up about the game as those in the Bluegrass State unless you happen be among those hoops-crazy Hoosiers.
With a dozen national titles between them (seven for the Wildcats, five for Indiana), this is about as good as it gets without actually being at the Final Four. Tom Crean has led a remarkable turnaround in Bloomington after the storied program fell on hard times. John Calipari has positioned Kentucky for another title run with his latest one-and-likely-done dream team and there’s no doubt the Georgia Dome will be rockin’ for this South Regional semifinal tonight.
Fourth-seeded Indiana handed the Wildcats one of their defeats, a buzzer-beating 73-72 victory a couple of weeks before Christmas. While that was a mere speed bump for Kentucky on the way to finishing No. 1 in the rankings, the thrilling win was a huge boost to Indiana’s self-esteem and national rankings.
The Hoosiers are back, make no mistake about it. Back in 2002, Indiana made a surprising run to the national championship game, held in the same mammoth building where the Hoosiers face the Wildcats. Over the last two seasons, it was still difficult to detect even a blip of light at the end of the tunnel. The Hoosiers went a combined 22-41 overall, just 7-29 in conference play.
After the loss to Indiana, Kentucky won 24 straight before losing to Vanderbilt in the championship game of the Southeastern Conference tournament. In a way, that might’ve helped the Wildcats, removing the burden of a winning streak before they headed off to the NCAAs. They barely broke a sweat in their first two games.
The Hoosiers coach is most impressed by the way Calipari, for the third year in a row, has molded a collection of high school stars into a powerhouse college team. Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Marquis Teague could very well be the latest batch of Kentucky blue-chippers to stop off in Lexington for only a year on their way to the NBA. But they hardly come across as a bunch of kids worried about individual stats at the expense of the team’s success.
Three players have taken more shots than Davis, the team’s top scorer and defensive stopper. Kidd-Gilchrist ranks fifth on the team in field-goal attempts. Darius Miller, one of only two seniors on the Kentucky roster, said this group seems to have meshed better than Calipari’s first two Kentucky teams.
Crean has his own super freshman, 6-foot-11 Cody Zeller. He leads the Hoosiers in scoring (15.5 points a game) and rebounding (6.5), giving Indiana an offensive weapon with at least a fighting chance against Davis.
Davis’ presence in the lane allows the Wildcats to cheat on the perimeter, because they know they’ve got a last line of defense who led the nation in blocked shots (4.6 a game).
During that December meeting, Indiana managed to get Davis in foul trouble and limit him to 24 minutes — a strategy the Hoosiers would certainly like to replicate in the rematch. But the freshman has played with much more discipline since then, called for no more than three fouls in any game.
There’s only one way Kentucky fans want to remember its team. Champions.