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Cats Fight Off Iowa State For Trip to Sweet Sixteen

When the brackets were announced last Sunday, most of Big Blue Nation, myself included, were concerned with a possible third round match up with Connecticut.  When the Huskies lost to Iowa State, it seemed the Cats had dodged a bullet.  But don’t tell that to the Cyclones who battled the overall #1 seed from the opening tip in what was a fiercely competitive and at times chippy game.

Kentucky got the already charged up home away from home crowd even more riled up with a 7-2 run to open the game on back to back dunks by Anthony Davis and Terrence Jones and forcing an early Iowa State timeout.  But as they would do throughout the first half the Cyclones responded by attacking the rim at will, led by the extremely talented forward Royce White.  Cats led 38-27 at the half.

Whatever comfort Coach Calipari had in the halftime advantage quickly evaporated as an Iowa State 15-4 run tied the score at 42 with less than four minutes gone in the second stanza.  A Terrence Jones drive and dunk gave Kentucky the lead back and Darius Miller’s timely jumper with the shot clock winding down started a dominant run from which the Cyclones would not recover.  Cats earn a hard fought victory to earn their third straight trip to the Sweet Sixteen 87-71.

For the first time in this tournament Kentucky took a punch from an opponent and responded in a positive way.  With the 11 point halftime lead gone and the team struggling to get anything going on offense, the Cats responded by going to their strength in the post, which they seemed to have forgotten earlier in the contest.  When play got physical and emotions started running hot, the Wildcats responded by turning up their intensity and more importantly worked together to get good shots on offense and cover for any lapses defensively. 

Marquis Teague led the team in scoring with a career high 24 points on 10-14 shooting to go along with 7 assists.  He seemed to initially take some early and unnecessary shots, but was unstoppable on the break with his ability to get the ball to the rim or get open shots for his teammates.  His ability to run the team and score when the opportunities present themselves is vital to the continued success in the tournament.

Darius Miller had his best game in quite a while scoring 19 points and making big shot after big shot.  His determination and leadership was evident as he was constantly encouraging his teammates throughout the game. 

The victory sets up a rematch with the Indiana Hoosiers, one of only two teams to defeat the Cats this season, in Atlanta on Friday night.  There should be no shortage of energy going into this game for Kentucky.  Coach Calipari has mentioned several times that his team has gained motivation throughout the season by the constant replaying of the Christian Watford game winning shot on ESPN.  The key will be harnessing that emotion and playing together to get a step closer to a return trip to the Final Four.