Sweet 16: No. 1 Kentucky blitzes Indiana
They ran up and down the court, two storied programs going toe to toe.
The top-seeded Wildcats moved another step closer to the only goal that matters in the Bluegrass State, shaking off a rather quiet night from freshman star Anthony Davis to pull away from the Hoosiers 102-90 in the South Regional semifinals Friday.
"It was a war and Indiana played great," Kentucky coach John Calipari said. "We just happened to play a little bit better."
Kentucky (35-2) simply had too many weapons. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist scored 24 points, Doron Lamb 21 and three of their teammates — not Davis, mind you — were in double figures. With that, the Wildcats dispatched the team that beat them back in early December and are off to a regional final for the third year in a row.
They'll face Baylor on Sunday for a trip to the Final Four.
"I feel like we did a pretty good job," said Kentucky's Darius Miller, who added 19 points. "So did Indiana. It was a very intense game. It was up and down for the most part. It was a fun game to be a part of, the way that both teams played."
Davis wasn't his usual dominating self after picking up two early fouls. He finished with nine points and 12 rebounds. So it was left to another of Kentucky's super freshmen to take the starring role. Kidd-Gilchrist had a double-double, also snatching 10 rebounds.
"In the huddles during timeouts, Michael was the guy firing us up," teammate Twany Beckham said. "It showed with his play."
Marquis Teague chipped in with 14 points and Terrence Jones 12.
Christian Watford had 27 points to lead the Hoosiers (27-9), who beat Kentucky 73-72 before Christmas but ended a comeback season with a loss to their border rival. Still, there was nothing to ashamed of, coming up two victories shy of the Final Four after winning a total of 28 games the previous three seasons.
Clearly, Indiana has regained its usual place among the college basketball bluebloods under coach Tom Crean.
"There's a lot of good things that have happened," Crean said. "This team has a lot of tremendous character, there's no doubt about that."
But Big Blue is moving on.
"We scored 90 points," Crean said. "They're a really good team. They've got a lot of guys. They've got a guy coming off the bench (Miller) who's going to be a first-round draft pick."
Indiana's freshman star, Cody Zeller, had 20 points, while Victor Oladipo provided a spark in the backcourt with 15 before fouling out. Kidd-Gilchrist just kept pounding the ball inside, drawing foul after foul on the Hoosiers, then knocking down the free throws. He went 10-for-10 at the line.
He wasn't the only one making free throws. Kentucky was a dead-eye 35-of-37 at the line, compared to 13-of-17 for the Hoosiers.
"It's not any big deal," Kidd-Gilchrist said. "We're just taking our time with free throws."
Jones, who had only four points in the December meeting, signaled this would be a different night by scoring Kentucky's first five points in the rematch. That set the tone for a shootout, both teams running and gunning in an exhilarating display that kept fans in both blue and red on their feet most of the time.
There certainly wasn't much to fear on the inside in the opening half, not with the two big men, Davis and Zeller, both spending much of the period on the bench, each saddled with two fouls.
Davis sat for the final 14:05 of the half, the Wildcats not wanting to take any chance on their best player picking up another foul. The 6-foot-10 center had two early blocks, but Indiana altered its offensive philosophy when he went to the bench. The Hoosiers started pounding the ball inside without fear of having it swatted away — especially Watford.
The hero of the first game — Watford made a buzzer-beating 3-pointer — had 17 points by halftime, including a short jumper with 3½ minutes left that capped a 21-10 stretch pushing the Hoosiers into the lead. Calipari quickly called a timeout with his team trailing 43-39, and Teague slammed the ball in frustration.
It was just a minor blip.
Miller hit a jumper, Indiana's Tom Prichard botched a left-handed dunk, and the Wildcats raced the other way, tying it up just like that on Jones' tip-in. They led 50-47 at the half and never surrendered their advantage the rest of the way.
Davis wasn't completely out of the loop. He also had three blocks, including an emphatic stuffing of Zeller when the Indiana big man tried to go under the basket and flip it in backhanded. Davis reached out his right hand and squashed the ball out of bounds.
He looks to have an even bigger impact against Baylor.
"This game is over," Davis said. "I have to just block it out and go on to Sunday's game."
Indiana had hoped for some more magic at the Georgia Dome, where they capped a surprising run to the championship game in 2002 before losing to Maryland.
After that, the Hoosiers fell on hard times. The scandalous regime of Kelvin Sampson left a massive rebuilding job for Crean, whose first three years were downright hideous — 28-66 overall, 8-46 in the Big Ten, a stunning fall for a program of Indiana's stature.
This season, they turned it all around with a performance befitting the logo worn by many of their faithful who descended on Atlanta, "We're Back."
But this is "Cat-lanta," a frequent site of the Southeastern Conference tournament and familiar surroundings for Kentucky and its fans. The Georgia Dome is hosting the Final Four in 2013, and the Wildcats view it as merely a stopping-off point this year on the way to their ultimate goal.
Calipari arrived in the Bluegrass State three years ago with a one-and-done philosophy — sign a bunch of the best high schools players every season, even if you know most of 'em are bound for the NBA after their freshman year.
It produced a regional final in 2010 and a trip to the Final Four last year.
This time, nothing less than cutting down the nets after the last game will do.
"This," Kidd-Gilchrist said, "is a good team."