John Clay: In a fantastic game, UK 'happened to play a little bit better'

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistMarch 24, 2012 

  • Kentucky vs. Western Kentucky

    When: 7 p.m. Saturday
    Where: LP Field in Nashville
    TV: ESPNews
    Radio: WBUL-FM 98.1; WLAP-AM 630; WWRW-FM 105.5

ATLANTA — These Kentucky Wildcats may go on and win three more games, capture the national championship and hang an eighth banner in Rupp Arena.

But they may not play a better, more exciting, more entertaining game than the one Friday night in the Georgia Dome that was the South Regional semifinal, that was a 102-90 Kentucky victory over Indiana.

"It was a war," said Kentucky Coach John Calipari. "Indiana played great and we just happened to play a little bit better."

And Cal also said this: "I love coaching this type of game."

This one was old school, in the best sense of the word. Add another memorable one to the Kentucky-Indiana list.

In a college game that has grown increasingly slow and low-scoring, this one had fast breaks and bundles of baskets.

Praise Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, the furious freshman who promised the Cats would administer some payback. The New Jersey native did more than even the box score showed with his 24 points and 10 rebounds. He was a perfect 10-of-10 from the foul line.

"Mike," said teammate Anthony Davis, "is a spectacular player."

Praise Doron Lamb, the sophomore who scored 21 points, hitting eight straight free throws.

Praise Darius Miller, the senior, who scored 19 points off the bench, hitting six of eight field goals, both of his three-point attempts and all five of his free throws.

"The game was a very intense game, it was up-and-down for the most part," Miller said. "It was a fun game to be a part of, the way both teams played."

"That was a hard-fought battle," said Indiana Coach Tom Crean. "I'm looking at the stat sheet trying to figure it out and I guess the biggest thing is the fouls and when they got to the bonus."

That was the thing, on a night when everything was fast and furious, tense and traumatic, Kentucky calmly made 35 of 37 free throws. At one point, the Cats made 17 straight .

"They're great drivers," said Indiana center Cody Zeller. "They got to the bonus early and once they got there, they were knocking them down."

Kentucky did a good portion of this without the National Player of the Year, Anthony Davis, for 14 minutes of a 20-minute first half.

Davis picked up his second foul with 14:05 left in the first half, and he viewed the remainder of the action on the Kentucky bench.

Yet, Kentucky led 50-47 at the half, even though Indiana shot 58.1 percent.

To have a great game, you must have two great teams. Indiana may not be quite great, but the Hoosiers shot 52.2 percent.

That snapped a streak of 69 straight games in which Calipari's club had held an opponent under 50 percent from the floor.

"That was them," Miller said. "I don't think we lacked intensity or focus, they just did a great job with their game plan, coming out to play."

Christian Watford, he of the buzzer-beater that conquered the Cats in December in Bloomington, scored a game-high 27 points. Zeller, who fought foul trouble of his own in the first half, scored 20.

If some thought UK would easily exact revenge for that lone regular-season loss, Crean wasn't about to let that happen.

The Hoosiers played rough and tough, but when Zeller scored the opening basket of the second half to pull Indiana to within 50-49, Crean's team could draw no closer.

"We were playing uphill," Crean said, "but it was never out of reach."

And Crean said this: "The Indiana mighty men gave it all. When you give every ounce that you have, you can move forward. And that's where we're at."

Kentucky moves forward to a 2:20 p.m. Sunday date with Baylor, which beat Xavier 75-70 in Friday night's first semifinal here.

"They are some hard-nosed young men," said Crean of the Cats, then added of his friend: "They are extremely well-coached. He's a great coach."

And this was a great game.

John Clay: (859) 231-3226. Email: jclay@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @johnclayiv. Blog: johnclay.bloginky.com

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