Indiana game not a total loss for Cats

Hostile environment toughens team, Cal says

jtipton@herald-leader.comDecember 12, 2011 

Tempered joy for one team. Strengthened resolve for the other. Even in the immediate washout of Saturday's pulsating Kentucky- Indiana game, the winner and the loser could put long-term perspective on the experience.

For Kentucky, which lost 73-72 on Christian Watford's three-pointer at the buzzer, there was the satisfaction that comes with meeting a challenge. First true road game for a freshman-dependent team. Inspired opponent looking to validate a four-year rebuilding slog. Zealous crowd aching to relish an IU victory and a UK defeat. Puzzling full-court ineffectiveness of All-America candidate Terrence Jones. Game-changer Anthony Davis' foul trouble.

Yet, Kentucky had a chance — make that three chances — to win inside the final minute.

"I'm proud of my team," UK Coach John Calipari said afterward. "How they gutted it out in the second half (and) how they played to win."

Calipari suggested that a telling moment came when he called timeout with 15:50 left. Kentucky trailed 45-35. Coach-speak or not, he said he welcomed the moment of crisis as a means to gain an important insight into the Cats.

"We find out (about) these guys in this environment," Calipari said. "Who can do this?"

No surprise that ultra-competitive freshman Michael Kidd-Gilchrist rose to the challenge. Fellow freshman Marquis Teague shook off a poor first half to take advantage of a favorable matchup. Old hands Doron Lamb and Darius Miller took the initiative.

When asked about the lesson this game provided, Calipari said, "We're pretty good. I've got a good team. ... We can win in different ways of playing."

Lamb, who always keeps his emotions in check, reminded reporters that Kentucky lost a game. Nothing more.

"It's not over yet," he said. "It's just one game. We can still win the whole thing. We can still win our conference. It's just one game.

"We just have to fight back (and) get the No. 1 spot again."

Calipari suggested that Kentucky has the tools and the talent to do just that. The loss came in a perfect storm of the right opponent in the right setting amid a claustrophobic environment of hostility.

"Indiana and the crowd made us play the way we played," Calipari said. "It's not like we were awful."

Miller acknowledged that the thickness of the Assembly Hall atmosphere, augmented by the student band's thumping bass, caught UK by surprise.

"We weren't ready for it at the beginning," he said.

Kentucky's rally from nine points down inside the final eight minutes dissipated in the final 19 seconds. Davis, only a 54.1 percent free-throw shooter coming into the game, missed the front end of one-and-one. Calipari wished aloud afterward that Davis had passed to an open Kidd-Gilchrist.

Then Lamb, who had made 89.3 percent of his free throws in UK's first eight games, made only one of two with 5.6 seconds left. That completed a 7-for-11 afternoon at the line, which marked the first time in his Kentucky career Lamb missed more than two free throws in a game.

"If you want someone on the line, that's who you want on the line," Calipari said. "That stuff happens."

Kentucky lent fate a helping hand by not fouling in the final 5.6 seconds. With only four team fouls, UK could have fouled twice without sending Indiana to the free-throw line.

Instead, Verdell Jones used a screen to elude Teague. Miller cut off Jones' drive, but that left the trailing Watford open for the winning three-pointer.

Indiana fans rushed onto the court. After waiting for the referees to confirm that Watford's shot beat the buzzer, IU Coach Tom Crean had what he called his first Gatorade bath.

"It was water, thank goodness," he said. "Now I know how my brothers-in-law felt."

That was a reference to football coaches John and Jim Harbaugh.

"Our fans deserve this," Crean said. "They deserve to storm the court. They deserve to stand on chairs and tables."

The victory capped a rebuilding effort four years in the making.

"These young men have endured a lot," Crean said.

But the IU coach declined to embrace the memorable day too tightly. To truly regain its position as one of college basketball's elite programs, Indiana needs more games like Saturday's, Crean said.

"This is not an exclamation point to our season," he said. "We have a lot of the season left. There's a lot of room for growth. That's what I'm most excited about."

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