ATLANTA - Once Indiana and Kentucky renew their acquaintance on the Georgia Dome floor Friday night little will be known about how the game will unfold. Until then, the only thing Indiana coach Tom Crean is certain of is his team will see a much different Kentucky when the ball goes up than it did on Dec. 10 in Bloomington.
Indiana coach Tom Crean watched his team during a workout at the Georgia Dome (photo by Darrell Bird)
More than 100 days have passed – 103 to be exact – since Christian Watford shot Assembly Hall in full-fledged pandemonium, enough time that Crean is aware just how much better the Cats have gotten.
“Kentucky is considerably better than what they were when we played them when they were No. 1 on the country, and they were really good then,” Crean said.
Little from the box score of the Hoosiers' 73-72 victory makes sense. The Cats shot 55.6 percent from the field in the game, including 60 percent after halftime, while the Hoosiers made just 43.1 percent. Both teams shot 17 free throws and grabbed 30 rebounds. Indiana turned the ball over one more time than Kentucky and had only two blocked shots compared to the Cats' six. Kentucky outscored Indiana 50-24 in the paint.
But Indiana made nine three-pointers to just two by Kentucky, including Watford's game-winner in a second half that saw the Hoosiers' make 7-of-9 from beyond the arc. It was a textbook example of the three-pointer being a great equalizer in college basketball.
“They're like us, they don't play to shoot threes,” UK coach John Calipari said. “But they're a great three-point shooting team.”
No opponent who has lit Kentucky up from long range this season like Indiana did that day. That shooting performance also gave the Hoosiers reason to believe they can do it again on a stage as bright as the Sweet 16.
“It gives players confidence,” Crean said. “To play a team like Kentucky, there's a lot of different stages that you've got to go through and belief is a big part of that because they're so good. You have to literally believe you can win the game because they have the ability to come in and throw those first couple of blows and punches, and they're hard to recover from. If you don't believe you can win it's a lot harder to recover from that so I do think (previous victories) play into it.”
For Kentucky's part, the Cats don't believe the same sequence of events that transpired in Bloomington that day will do so again in Atlanta. Anthony Davis was limited to just 24 minutes because of severe foul trouble. Marquis Teague was overcome by the emotions of playing in his home state before a crowd out for his blood. Terrence Jones was a complete non-entity. A young team was playing its first game on the road.
They are the same things Crean has noticed.
“Their team is clicking on all cylinders,” Crean said. “Their team defense is phenomenal. Their individual play has improved, which has made their offense better. They're extremely, extremely well coached and I think Coach Calipari has done a phenomenal job of not only making that team better but making that team with so many young guys very, very cohesive and absolutely committed to sharing the basketball.”
With so much talk of what happened four months ago, can any of what transpired that day carry over to this meeting?
“There's certain parts of the game plan that are still in play and there are other that we've changed,” Crean said. “You prepare for a lot of the best we've seen from Kentucky and show it to your team. We don't want to spend a lot of time showing clips of people that didn't play them right or didn't come in with the mindset that they could beat them. You want to show their team at their best.”
Indiana certainly believes it will see Kentucky's best on Friday night.
No. 4 INDIANA vs. No. 1 KENTUCKY
NCAA Tournament Sweet 16
When: Approx. 9:45 p.m.; Friday, Mar. 23
Where: Georgia Dome; Atlanta
TV: CBS; Radio: UK IMG Network
Previous Meeting: Dec. 10, 2011 - @Indiana 73, Kentucky 72
Records: Indiana (27-8); Kentucky (34-2)