Strange game saw poor play, happy Gillispie

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistDecember 14, 2008 

Across the decades, Kentucky blue and Indiana red have congealed to produce moments of basketball majesty.

The head-slap game between The General and Joe B. Kentucky's subsequent NCAA Tournament revenge upon an undefeated IU.

Kent Benson's tip-in. The Derek Anderson game. The Damon Bailey game.

Across the decades, the names Kentucky and Indiana have represented college basketball at its best.

What the two produced Saturday in Rupp Arena bore as little resemblance to college basketball at its best as Dustin Diamond (aka Screech) does to Brad Pitt.

In one of the strangest modern renewals of the UK-IU rivalry, Kentucky opened the game on a 32-6 rampage and beat probation-ravaged Indiana 72-54 before a Rupp crowd of 23,767.

The first eight minutes of the game likely featured the best basketball Kentucky has played so far in the 2008-09 season. The Cats defense throttled the youthful Hoosiers in the half-court and with full-court pressure.

UK opened the game by hitting its first five shots, and 11 of its first 13, and buried Indiana before it got started.

Yet by the time the game ended, I was pretty sure that short-handed Indiana — paying a steep price in talent depletion for Kelvin Sampson's phone sins — had more reason to leave Rupp in a good mood than the official victors.

Which tells you all you need to know about how poorly UK played after its opening tsunami.

Were I the Kentucky coach, I'd have been furious over the Cats committing 23 turnovers against an Indiana team of, to be generous, limited athletic ability.

I'd have been worried that undersized IU was winning the rebounding battle deep into the second half (before Kentucky ultimately prevailed 38-30).

Were I the Kentucky coach, the regression in the play of mercurial freshman point guard DeAndre Liggins would have given me a case of post-game indigestion.

After showing significant progress in the four games following his now infamous refusal to re-enter Kentucky's win over Kansas State in Las Vegas, Liggins took a big step back against IU.

In 23 minutes, the freshman had six turnovers. He made only two of six shots and seemed to be looking to shoot early in offensive sets when getting the ball inside or to the hot hand (sophomore big man Josh Harrellson, who had 11 first-half points) was the percentage point-guard play.

Were I the Kentucky coach, I'd have been seriously frosted that, from the 7:57 mark of the first half until the end of the game, an IU team without one significant returnee from last season outscored the Cats 48-40.

I fully expected the guy who is the Kentucky coach, Billy Gillispie, to be hotter than 1,000 suns under the collar. I was not alone.

"The way we played at the end, I thought Coach would be upset," said Kentucky star Patrick Patterson. "I thought he'd be mad."

Yet Gillispie — who is nothing if not full of surprises — was in complete the-glass-is-half-full mode.

Liggins' spotty play?

"I couldn't care less," the UK coach said. "Our team won. That's all that makes any difference."

The big letdown after Kentucky's roaring start?

"Hey, let's get 26 points ahead, and I'll take shooting 15-out-of-45 every time," Gillispie said, having been quoted those shooting numbers for UK after the Cats' 32-6 lead.

The UK turnover bugaboo reappearing?

"If 22 turnovers (actually it was 23) come in a big win against a rival, I'll take it," said Billy G.

As for IU, the mess Sampson created with his illegal phone calls to recruits has left the Hoosiers every bit as bereft of talent as we'd all heard.

Yet, in a hostile setting and on the verge of being fully obliterated when down 32-6, Tom Crean's young team showed some fight.

If I were the Indiana coach, the Hoosier grit on display in Rupp would have left me hopeful.

"At the start, Kentucky turned it up and had another gear, and they used it. That's a credit to them," Crean said. "But we were still able to get back and play with a lot of heart and hustle."

The victorious team won big yet played poorly for roughly 30 minutes.

The losing team had much reason to leave feeling uplifted.

Kentucky-Indiana, 2008, was as far from vintage Cats-Hoosiers as Portland, Maine, is from Portland, Ore.

In the long history of UK-IU, this may have been the strangest game ever.

Contact Mark Story at (859) 231-3230, or (800) 950-6397, Ext. 3230, or mstory@herald-leader.com. Your e-mail could appear on the blog Read Mark Story's E-Mail at Kentucky.com.

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