BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — Talk about your Hoosier hostility. The Indiana crowd was into this Kentucky-Indiana thing from the jump, displaying rude signs, howling obscenities and reverting to the "Cal's a Cheater! Cal's a Cheater" chant.
This was no glee club.
It was also something John Calipari's young UK basketball team had not experienced before.
It had played in a quirky chandelier-filled ballroom in Cancun. It had played against a defending national championship team in Rupp. It had played before Pat Riley, Michael Douglas, Oscar Robertson and the like against some Big East bangers at Madison Square Garden.
But it had not played before a group of rabid Midwesterners, chafed by the cold, crammed into their own gym, out for blue blood.
"This place," said Patrick Patterson, the veteran Cat, "is as loud, if not louder than Rupp."
And we're talking Cal's wet-behind-the-ears Wildcats here, the team that was really 4-5 (that's Cal-reality), that drinks the poison, that does some things so ridiculous the head coach cries out (in his sleep), "WHY did you do that?"
How did those Cats do?
They acted as though they'd been here before and put a hurtin' on the Hoosiers.
"It felt good," said Eric Bledsoe, the freshman guard who scored a team-high 23 points in the 90-73 win, adding, "The crowd wasn't going to stop me from shooting."
Not that your ears felt good, mind you. They all but bled. The Indiana student section came to be heard, and for the first half the decibel level grew into Metallica territory as Maurice Creek hit shot after shot. At intermission, it was Kentucky by a razor-thin 42-41.
Then, a little more than seven minutes into the second half, the afterburners had fired, and it was 65-48 Kentucky, as the IU faithful began reaching under their seats to make sure they didn't forget their coats.
"I thought we handled it great," said DeMarcus Cousins.
The big rookie did handle it well, hitting four of his five free throws, grabbing eight rebounds, scoring 14 points. Big Cuz has a tendency to be emotional, but he said he took a pre-game nap back at the hotel and woke up calm, relaxed and, as it turned out, beastly.
"He grew up today," said Calipari.
Meanwhile, Patterson owed his double-double (19 points, 11 rebounds) not to sleep but to wizened experience. He'd been to Assembly Hall before and told his fuzz-faced teammates to expect a jackhammer crowd.
"But we're not going to back down," said Patterson.
Or slow down.
"That's the fastest team I've ever personally coached against," said Tom Crean, the Indiana coach.
It's been a fast eight days, too, and an enlightening eight days. Three separate challenges in three separate venues, with three successful outcomes.
Last Saturday, at home, the Cats overcame John Wall's second-half case of the cramps to hold off defending champion North Carolina 68-66. Wednesday in New York City, the Cats had to grind it out against Connecticut for a 64-61 win.
Then Saturday, on a hostile court, the Cats went nose-to-nose with the Hoosiers in the first half, then all but toyed with IU in the second half.
(By the way, have you noticed that, so far, we haven't once mentioned John Wall?)
Finally, with 4:05 left, and Kentucky up 82-63, Daniel Orton picked up his fifth foul. As the UK freshman made his way to the bench, the IU students gave him the old "left, right, left, right, left, right" cheer as Orton put one foot in front of the other.
But just as he got to his seat, Orton stopped and did a quick-step, shuffling his feet furiously just to play with the crowd.
To their credit, some of the students laughed. After all, by that point, there wasn't much else left to do.
Reach John Clay at (859) 231-3226 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3226, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his blog at Kentucky.com.