Kentucky-Indiana rematch might again hinge on threes

jtipton@herald-leader.comMarch 22, 2012 

  • Friday

    Kentucky vs. Indiana

    What: NCAA South Regional semifinal

    Where: Georgia Dome in Atlanta

    When: About 9:45 p.m. (after the Baylor-Xavier game)

    TV: CBS-27

    Radio: WLAP-AM 630, WBUL-FM 98.1

    Records: Kentucky 34-2, Indiana 27-8

    Series: Kentucky leads 31-24

    Last meeting: Indiana won 73-72 on Dec. 10, 2011, in Bloomington, Ind.

ATLANTA — Even if it didn't appear on television more often than Seinfeld reruns, Indiana forward Christian Watford's buzzer-beater against Kentucky in December would resonate.

"It represented something," Watford said Thursday of his three-point game-winner. "The coming back of this program."

Indiana returned to college basketball relevance. Kentucky returned to Lexington,

"I usually turn it off," UK forward Terrence Jones said of the replay. He'd watched "the whole commercial through? Probably once."

Watford acknowledged that UK had reason — OK, countless reasons — to be sick of seeing the shot replayed again and again by ESPN to promote its NCAA Tournament coverage.

"I would hate it, too, if it happened to me," he said.

In a rematch against Indiana in the NCAA Tournament South Regional semifinals Friday, Kentucky surely will want to prevent an in-person replay of the shot. Earlier this week, ESPN analyst Jay Bilas cited defense against any and all three-point shots as a key factor in Kentucky's hopes of advancing toward a national championship.

"Indiana can't beat Kentucky without making perimeter shots," Bilas said. "Guarding the three-point line is the most important thing in that game for Kentucky. Even if instead of threes, you give up layups, I'd rather have Jordan Hulls trying to make a floater over Anthony Davis than a three."

Hulls, a 6-foot junior, is one of Indiana's best three-point shooters in terms of quantity (70 baskets from beyond the arc) and quality (49.3 percent accuracy). But he has plenty of company in Matt Roth (56 percent), Will Sheehey (39.1 percent), Derek Elston (55.2 percent) and, of course, Watford (44.5 percent).

Overall, Indiana ranks second nationally in three-point shooting: 43.7 percent accuracy. The Hoosiers made nine of 15 shots from three-point range against Kentucky in the epic game on Dec. 10. Only five other opponents made that many threes against UK this season.

The last three UK opponents, which include Vanderbilt and Iowa State, have made only 15 of 55 three-point shots.

"We've been playing a lot of teams (that shoot three-pointers)," Jones said. "We've been practicing almost all season for teams like that."

UK Coach John Calipari recoiled from the suggestion that Indiana is dependent on three-point shooting.

"They're like us," he said. "They don't play to shoot threes, but they're a great three-point shooting team. But we're a pretty good three-point shooting team, too. We just don't play that way. ... If that's what they give us, we'll take it."

Indiana averages 6.4 three-point baskets per game. Kentucky averages 5.8.

One player disavowed the three-point shot: UK freshman Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.

"I'm going to go to the rack," he said with a smile. "I don't know about (other players)."

Indiana Coach Tom Crean qualified the importance of three-point shooting for his team.

"Three-pointers are always going to be a factor for us," he said. "More important is the ball moving and people moving. That's more important than any one aspect of the game."

Of course, Davis anchors Kentucky's defense. Not only does he lead the nation in blocks (4.6 per game), which permits perimeter defenders to force shooters to drive, he also blocks his share of three-point attempts.

"Some teams are not aware that Davis can cover a lot of ground," Crean said.

Bilas echoed the sentiment.

"The guy's got such incredible defensive range," the ESPN analyst said of Davis. "We talk about offensive range. He's got defensive range. He can cover more ground than just about anyone in college basketball."

In its victory over Kentucky in December, Indiana made many of its three-point opportunities.

"Very important," Watford said of how the shot factored in the Hoosiers' victory, "but that's what we do. We've done it all year. I don't expect it to change."

Jerry Tipton: (859) 231-3227. Twitter: @JerryTipton. Blog:

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