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Coach John Calipari might not have wanted revenge to be a motivating factor for his team and said after the game that they never discussed it. But the blue clad Kentucky fans that filled the Georgia Dome in Atlanta March 23 definitely had it on their mind.
Terrence Jones got the scoring started with a three pointer and jumper, quickly surpassing his forgettable performance in the first meeting this season. The fast paced end to end action was only stopped by the quick, and at times questionable, whistles of the officials.
Kentucky seemed on the verge of pulling away early, building a nine point lead with just under 10 minutes left in the first half with three Hoosier starters on the bench in foul trouble. Indiana Coach Tom Crean rolled the dice by sending Cody Zeller and Jordan Hulls back into the contest with two fouls apiece and man did it ever pay off. The Wildcats uncharacteristically forced shots, turned the ball over, and faced their biggest deficit with 3:29 left in the half. The Cats closed the half with an 11-4 run of their own to take a 50-47 lead into the locker room.
The back and forth action between the teams continued in the second half with both teams pushing the ball at every opportunity. Kentucky managed to stretch their lead to 13 points with just under 10 minutes left in the game, but questionable decisions continued to keep the Hoosiers in the game. Darius Miller’s driving basket with the shot clock running out put Indiana in a hole they never dug out of. Cats defeat the pesky Hoosiers 102-90.
Next up for the Cats was an Elite Eight match up with the #3 seeded Baylor Bears and their hideous uniforms.
Fortunately, the Wildcats were the home team, sparing everyone’s eyes any further damage from watching them play.
For one of the few times this season, Kentucky faced an opponent as long and athletic as themselves and for the first five minutes, Marquis Teague and company struggled to adjust. After falling behind 10-5, the Cats overwhelmed the Bears with their best half of basketball on the season finishing on a 37-12 run to take a commanding lead to the break.
The second half was less than a thing of beauty, as Kentucky struggled against the desperate pressure of Baylor, struggling to put points on the board and giving up too many easy baskets. The Cats made enough plays down the stretch to eventually put the game away, advancing to their second straight Final Four appearance 82-70.
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist was the South Regional’s Most Outstanding Player and was joined on the All Tournament Team by Doron Lamb and Anthony Davis.
As if playing in the Final Four wasn’t excitement enough, Kentucky’s opponent in the first Semifinal Saturday night will be none other than their arch rival Louisville Cardinals. This will be the first time that the schools have ever met in a Final Four and the first time they have met in the NCAA Tournament since 1984.
The Cats and Cards will be joined in New Orleans by the Ohio State Buckeyes and Kansas Jayhawks in what should be one of the most highly anticipated Final Fours in some time. Kentucky will enter as the clear favorite, but the match up with Louisville will be difficult as the Cardinals have been playing their best basketball of the season since post season play began. The other semifinal should be a physical battle with the team able to make the most outside shots the likely victor.
It should be a crazy scene on Saturday night and I’m not sure if the state of Kentucky can handle the excitement and drama that is coming its way this weekend. The Cats will once again have the target squarely on their back and it will be interesting to see how this young group of freshman react to the challenge. The only thing you can say for sure is that they have always responded the right way thus far.
(Brian Melton is a contributing writer for the Grant County News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)