ATLANTA — On Sunday, the Kentucky Wildcats might feel as if they are looking in a mirror.
Now, the only thing that stands between Kentucky and a return trip to the Final Four is a Baylor team that, on the hoof, looks remarkably like the Cats.
Coach Scott Drew's Bears are long. They are athletic. When the 2012 NCAA Tournament began, many hoops observers considered the Bears (30-7) to be one of the three most physically talented teams in the field along with UK and (a healthy) North Carolina.
No one said earning a Final Four trip would or should be easy.
UK earned a date with Baylor on Sunday at 2:20 p.m. by recording a stirring 102-90 payback victory over the gritty Indiana Hoosiers in the Georgia Dome. Just as in the game UK lost to IU in Bloomington in December, foul trouble hobbled Anthony Davis.
So UK (35-2) relied on its depth of talent, getting stellar performances from Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (24 points, 10 rebounds), Doron Lamb (21 points) and Darius Miller (19 points) to subdue Coach Tom Crean's gritty and impressive Hoosiers (27-9).
The Cats' draining an astounding 35 of 37 free throws also didn't hurt.
"It was a war," Kentucky Coach John Calipari said. "Indiana played great and we just happened to play a little bit better."
So now it's a Cats and Bears fight for a trip to New Orleans.
Of Baylor's seven losses, five of them were against Big 12 titans Missouri (three) and Kansas (two).
The Bears have a front line whose talent and size can battle Kentucky's.
Quincy Acy, the Bears' muscular 6-foot-7, 235-pound forward, hit Xavier for a double-double (20 points, 15 rebounds) in Baylor's 75-70 win.
Perry Jones III, a multi-talented 6-11 sophomore, is a name you'll find near the top of many NBA mock drafts. By reputation, Jones does not always play to his talent level, but he hit seven of eight shots against Xavier and, in one tense stretch of the second half, scored six straight points.
Quincy Miller, a 6-9 freshman whose name was linked with Kentucky's recruiting efforts for a time, averages 10.8 points per game.
For all the attention Baylor's front line gets, its leading scorer is 5-10 junior guard Pierre Jackson (13.6 ppg). Jackson averages more than five assists a game and had 10 against Xavier.
His running mate at guard, sophomore shooting guard Brady Heslip, has been on fire in the NCAA tourney. The Canadian scorched Colorado for nine three-pointers and 27 points in Baylor's round of 32 victory.
As three losses to a smallish Missouri team shows, Baylor can be vulnerable to attack from the backcourt.
"We're just looking forward to go a little farther and make a little history," Acy said.
For those with a bent for history, Kentucky leads the all-time series with Baylor 6-0, though the teams have not met since 1980.
The most significant meeting ever between UK and Baylor came in the 1948 NCAA championship game. Ralph Beard, Alex Groza, Wah Wah Jones and Co. led UK to a 58-42 victory for Adolph Rupp's first NCAA title.
Now, 64 years later, UK and Baylor meet again in the NCAA Tournament, with a Final Four berth on the line.
If the 2012 Bears wear the same electric-neon green uniforms they sported against Xavier, UK's first task may be to avoid having its collective sight blinded by Baylor unis.
Otherwise, the most difficult challenge facing Kentucky could be getting its legs back after an all-out, up-tempo battle of attrition with Indiana.
"The thing I said to John (Calipari) is make sure you've got enough in the tank to win this thing," IU's Crean said. "This game tonight took a lot out of everybody."
Calipari said he's not worried about that.
"Nah, Nope. "When you're playing at this time of year, you have more energy than you need," he said.
UK will need all the energy it can muster against a team, Baylor, that looks very much like the Cats.
Said Calipari: "We're playing a Baylor team that is just as talented as we are. They're long, athletic, just like we are. It's going to be a hard game. It's a hard game."
Mark Story: (859) 231-3230. Email: email@example.com. Twitter: @markcstory. Blog: markstory.bloginky.com