What egos and unwillingness to compromise took away, the NCAA Tournament is bringing back.
For the second time in five years, Kentucky and Indiana — the long-running border rivalry that is no more — will play on college basketball’s biggest stage.
No. 5 seed Indiana (26-7) did its part to bring back Hoosiers-Cats, turning in a scintillating offensive performance in a 99-74 pasting of No. 12 Chattanooga on Thursday night in Wells Fargo Arena.
The Hoosiers shot 60.7 percent in the first half, 69 percent in the second and 64.9 percent for the game. In his 135th college start, IU star senior point guard Yogi Ferrell recorded his first career double-double — 20 points and 10 assists.
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After a cold-shooting start, East Region No. 4 seed Kentucky (27-8) then advanced by besting No. 13 Stony Brook 85-57.
So now, for the first time since the 2012 NCAA tourney, it’s on again between UK and IU. The Cats and Hoosiers will meet Saturday for a spot in the Sweet Sixteen.
“It will be wild,” Indiana forward Troy Williams said of the atmosphere. The teams “ have history against each other. Actually, it will be really wild.”
Speaking before they knew for sure who their round of 32 opponent would be, Indiana players were guarded in their comments about UK.
Several did acknowledge they have felt a little cheated by not getting to play in the Kentucky-Indiana series, which was an annual contest from 1969-70 until 2011-12.
“I was a little bit like that in the beginning, when I first committed,” said Indiana forward Collins Hartman, an Indianapolis product.
The border rivalry ended in a scheduling dispute, with Kentucky Coach John Calipari offering IU a take-it-or-leave it two-year contract to play neutral site games in Indianapolis.
IU head man Tom Crean wanted home-and-home contests in Bloomington and Lexington.
To its credit, Indiana eventually offered a compromise — a four-year deal with two neutral-site games and one contest on each school’s campus.
Kentucky would not negotiate, however, and that ended a historic rivalry between the state universities of two basketball-mad states that share a border.
Which is a shame.
But it sure will make Saturday’s NCAA Tournament matchup great theater.
If Indiana shoots like it did against Chattanooga, the Hoosiers will win.
The question, of course, is how much of IU’s scintillating offensive performance was due to porous Chattanooga defense.
“I don’t know if that was our best performance,” Williams said. “But it was one of them.”
In games Indiana lost, there was no one consistent undoing.
The Hoosiers were routed on the boards in losses to Wake Forest (outrebounded 43-30) and Duke (38-25). They turned over the ball 21 times in a defeat to UNLV.
In falling in overtime at Wisconsin, Indiana shot poorly (28-of-62). The Big Ten regular-season champion’s upset loss to Michigan in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten Tournament came as a result of bad three-point shooting (four-of-17).
On the season, Indiana usually has been a cohesive offensive force. Coming into the NCAA Tournament, the Hoosiers led the Big Ten in scoring (82.3 points) and field-goal percentage (50.1), and were second in scoring margin (plus 13.4), three-point field goal percentage (44.2) and offensive rebounding (6.8 a game).
The IU-UK meeting will feature a marquee point guard matchup between Ferrell, a 6-foot Indianapolis product, and Kentucky’s Tyler Ulis.
Asked if he would buy a ticket to see the two star point guards go head-to-head, Indiana freshman big man Thomas Bryant laughed.
“I would,” he said. “I definitely would.”
Bryant, a 6-10, 245-pound product of Rochester, N.Y., received a good bit of recruiting interest from Kentucky.
“It played out well,” he said. “I had to choose the best fit for me, and that was Indiana.”
It is the presence of Bryant (13 points, two rebounds versus Chattanooga) and rapidly developing 6-8, 215-pound freshman forward OG Anunoby (14 points, a 360 dunk) that is the biggest difference between Indiana this season and last.
So, Saturday, for the first time since Kentucky beat Indiana 102-90 in the NCAA Tournament round of 16 in 2012, we’ll see if IU has built itself back to UK’s level.
For all the great history between the Wildcats and Hoosiers, the rivalry was not very competitive in the years before it ended. Kentucky has won 17 of the past 22 games against Indiana.
That’s a far cry from the 1970s, when Bob Knight was cuffing Joe B. Hall in the back of the head and UK was spoiling IU unbeaten seasons in the NCAA Tournament.
Back then, Kentucky-Indiana rocked.
“There’s been a lot of tremendous games,” Crean said. “It’s a rivalry because of the history of it, because of the proximity of the states, but because the two basketball teams have been good. (That’s) when it’s been the best.”
This year, we’ll see if the NCAA Tournament can reignite a dormant rivalry by producing a gripping drama.
“A great matchup,” Ferrell said. “Two high-level, offensive-powered teams. So we’ll see what happens.”
We will, and it is going to be fun.