Saturday, December 10, 2011

Indiana 73, Kentucky 72

[box score] [recap]

It looks like the rebuilding process in Bloomington is complete.

When Tom Crean arrived from Marquette to clean up the mess left by Kevin Sampson, he was given a long leash in terms of on-court results. His skills as a recruiter and as a tactician were secondary in importance to his ability to motivate players and his reputation for running a clean ship. Indiana was willing to put up with a lot of losing to get its hoops program back on track long-term.

During Crean's tenure at the school, the Hoosiers have done plenty of losing. In 2008-09, Crean's first, they went 6-21, following that up with 10-21 and 12-20 campaigns. Despite that lack of success in the win column, however, you could always count on Indiana to show up and play hard. In that regard, then, over the last three seasons, Indiana had plenty of "moral victories," if not traditional ones.

Perhaps no game over the last three seasons represented a moral victory than the one last year's contest with Kentucky, when Indiana led much of the way before succumbing to the bigger, quicker, better Wildcats.

At some point, though, the moral victories have to stop, and Crean decided that this year was that point. The Hoosiers were 8-0 heading into Saturday's game, and Crean told ESPN analysts Dan Shulman and Dick Vitale before the game that there were no more moral victories for this squad.

The moment Christian Watford's buzzer-beating three-pointer hit the net, the court at Assembly Hall was filled -- and I mean filled, to the point where movement was very difficult -- with crimson-clad students going crazy. There was a time when rushing the court would have been inappropriate at Indiana, as that ritual really belongs to fans of teams that don't expect to win. Soon, it probably will be considered inappropriate once again. But today, it was exactly right, because today's win was more than just a victory over a hated rival and the top-ranked team in the country. It also marked Indiana's re-emergence as an elite program.

Kentucky notes: As important as this win was for Indiana's program, it was also a very important (in a good way) loss for Kentucky. The young Wildcats had not played a true road game, and Assembly Hall was an absolute cauldron, as tough an atmosphere as they'll play in all season. And with Anthony Davis in foul trouble and Terrence Jones playing so apathetically (four points, one rebound, six turnovers in 28 minutes) that John Calipari kept him on the bench as much as he could, they found a way to erase a ten-point second-half league and put themselves in a position to win the game. To have true success this year, Kentucky will need guys to settle the team down, put it on their shoulders, and get a bucket when they need one. That's what Calipari's dribble penetration offense is designed for, and until today, no one had really emerged as that guy. But down the stretch at Indiana, Marquis Teague, Doron Lamb, Darius Miller, and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist took turns being that guy. Kentucky grew up an awful lot today.

Indiana notes: Anyone who listened to Vitale on the broadcast knows that he repeatedly chided Indiana in the second half for not getting the ball to Cody Zeller, their outstanding freshman who was being guarded either by Davis, who had four fouls, or by someone who couldn't guard him. I agree that Indiana took some bad shots, but Vitale overstated the case. First of all, Zeller wasn't getting open often enough. Secondly, more often than not, Indiana was asking 6'0" Jordan Hulls to make the entry pass. Kidd-Gilchrist, who's a long 6'7", was guarding Hulls, and Hulls couldn't make the pass ... Watford not only hit the game-winner, but was great at getting to the basket the entire second half. If there's a go-to scorer on that team, he's it ... I was impressed with Victor Olapido's slashing, but he was out of control at times ... Will Sheehey's shot selection needs to be better.

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