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Rewind: Cats win a classic

NCAA Tournament Sweet 16
Mar. 23, 2012
Georgia Dome; Atlanta

ATLANTA - College basketball is better when Indiana and Kentucky are relevant and the two longtime border rivals staged another classic chapter in their storied history on the NCAA Tournament stage.

Kentucky outlasted the Hoosiers 102-90 in a game that was exhilarating from the opening tip and left a crowd of 24,731 fans at the Georgia Dome standing throughout. The win put Kentucky (35-2) in its third consecutive Elite Eight and within a win over Baylor of making a second straight Final Four.

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist overpowered Indiana for the second time this season, scoring 24 points and grabbing 10 rebounds to steady the Cats every time the Hoosiers made a run. Anthony Davis sat the final 14:05 of the first half after picking up his second foul, but recovered to finish with nine points, 12 rebounds and three blocks.

Kentucky did what it couldn't in Bloomington, making 35 of 37 free throws in the game, including 26 of 27 in the second half to close out a relentless Indiana squad. Christian Watford, whose buzzer beating three upset the Cats on Dec. 10, had a game-high 27 points but it wasn't enough to push the Hoosiers over the top.

“These kids at this time of year are going to go where you take them. I'm just wanting them to have a ball playing basketball. I want them to have fun. I don't want them to feel all this (pressure). It seems like there's only one team that is not allowed to lose in this tournament and that's us. I don't want them to feel that. That's not the case. And we won.”

“We scored 90 points. We scored 90 points. We did a lot of good things, but they're a very talented team. This game came down to, when we had the ball moving offensively, when we could create some movement and get them off team defense we had some opportunities. But that's a lot easier said than done. We did some good things but at the same time that defense is really, really good.” – Indiana coach Tom Crean

“I feel we like playing fast-paced games just because we like being on the attack and we like when Marquis (Teague) pushes it. We're playing our best basketball just because we have so many options and he's such a good ball handler and he controls the tempo and gets us in everything we need to get to.” – UK forward Terrence Jones, on the tempo of the game

Simply put, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist loves the big stage. The more important the game and the moments throughout those games the more Kentucky's irrepressible freshman steps to the forefront of the show. Kidd-Gilchrist dissected Indiana for the second time this season, scoring a team-high 24 points and adding 10 rebounds to will the Cats to the Elite Eight. Every time Kentucky needed a steadying play it seemed to be the freshman forward who ripped away a rebound or scored in traffic. Every time Kentucky needed a play to stop the bleeding, it was Kidd-Gilchrist who delivered. It's probably safe to say Indiana will have nightmares of the 42 points and 19 rebounds the Cats' relentless force dropped on it in two games this season.

In a game that did not have a single full 60 seconds of game clock expire between scores it seemed like no lead would be safe for either team, but one quick 9-2 outburst gave Kentucky just enough cushion to survive down the stretch. The Cats led 70-64 with 11:44 remaining when Doron Lamb shot faked on the perimeter to get an Indiana defender off his feet and then drove for a bucket. The Cats added a pair of Anthony Davis free throws and watched Jordan Hulls hit a pull-up jumper before Michael Kidd-Gilchrist snatched a rebound off his own miss, scored through a thicket of Hoosier arms and added the ensuing free throw. Davis then blocked Cody Zeller and Christian Watford missed a driving attempt before Kidd-Gilchrist and Davis played volleyball on the offensive glass long enough to get a Davis tip in for a 79-66 lead with 8:58 left in the game.

Doron Lamb sometimes has a tendency to slip into the background as teammates like Anthony Davis, Kidd-Gilchrist and Terrence Jones draw more national attention but when he is aggressive and involved the Cats are nearly impossible to beat. The sophomore guard poured in 21 points, the first time since Dec. 20 he had scored 20 or more points in a game. More than that, it was how Lamb went about his offensive assault, taking just one three-pointer among his 10 field goal attempts – only the third time all season he had not taken at least three from long distance – as he repeatedly put the ball on the deck and attacked the rim. Lamb, who missed four free throws in the first meeting with Indiana, made all eight of his charity stripe attempts in this one as well.

35 – Indiana's buzzer beating victory over Kentucky in Bloomington may have never happened had Kentucky not gone 1-of-3 from the free throw line in final 20 seconds of that game, which surely made the Cats' effort from the charity stripe in the rematch all the more satisfying. UK made 35 of 37 free throws, including 26 of 27 in the second half, to erase the memories of a 10 of 17 effort in the first meeting. According to stat guru Ken Pomeroy, UK's 94.6 percent mark was the best in a game with minimum of 30 free throws attempts since Bowling Green made 34-of-35 on Jan. 26, 2006 against Kent State.

Take a minute to pause and appreciate what a fantastic college basketball game two storied rivals played on a stage as big as the NCAA Tournament Sweet 16. Kentucky and Indiana waged two absolute heavyweight fights that would do any of the great boxing matches over the year proud. Basketball is better when Indiana and Kentucky go at each other and anyone who was in the Georgia Dome or watching at home on this night an edition of the rivalry that will likely be talked about for a long, long time. And once again, Kentucky proved it has a toughness and fortitude as impressive as any team in recent memory.

Kentucky (35-2) will face No. 3 seed Baylor at 2:20 p.m. on Sunday afternoon for the right to go to the Final Four in New Orleans.

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