By LARRY VAUGHT
The game that the NCAA Tournament selection committee and CBS-TV both insist they really did not plot to happen is going to be played Saturday.
Kentucky struggled early in the game before easily pulling away from Stony Brook 85-57 while Indiana shot 65 percent and routed Tennessee-Chattanooga 99-74 and had five players score in double figures.
Now the two rivals who have not played since the 2012 NCAA Tournament will meet Saturday night in the East Region second round in Des Moines.
It’s a game fans of both teams had been anticipating while coaches and players on both teams tried to focus on their opening NCAA games.
Give CBS-TV announcer Jim Nantz for noting that both UK and Indiana seemed “under seeded” to him and did not deserve to be playing in the second round.
In the first half, Kentucky looked distracted and missed 23 of 34 shots. Guards Tyler Ulis and Jamal Murray combined to make just three of 15 shots. Yet UK still had a 33-19 halftime lead because Stony Brook was just 7-for-37 from the field and Skal Labissiere played like he did before his relapse at the SEC Tournament.
Labissiere had six points and five blocks in the first half and his court awareness and defense were both much better. He finished the game with 12 points, four rebounds and five blocks.
Murray played like Murray in the second half. After going 1-for-9 in the first half, he heated up and finished with 19 points and seven rebounds. Isaiah Briscoe continued his impressive play with 13 points and 11 rebounds. Ulis had a routine 10 points and seven assists — or at least routine by his choice even though he did become the school’s all-time single season assists leader.
“He said just play and not do too much,” Murray said about what coach John Calipari told him at halftime when asked by CBS-TV’s Tracy .
“It was his first NCAA tourney game and he was a little shaky at the start,” Calipari said. “The first half he didn’t play the way he has been playing. But we will chalk it up to his first NCAA Tournament game.”
Kentucky blocked a NCAA-record 15 shots and limited Stony Brook to 25 percent shooting.
Indiana coach Tom Crean got a first-hand look at that. He told Wolfson that he wanted to see “UK’s length and how players handled contact.” Does that mean he expects a lot of contact in Saturday’s game?
Crean would not say much about Kentucky in his postgame press conference before UK and Stony Brook played.
“Our preparation won’t change on whoever the opponent is. We’ll lock into it tonight and we’ll lock into it tomorrow and we’ll get ready to play on Saturday,” Crean said before UK won.
So what about the rivalry in general?
“I think it’s a great rivalry and one of the — there has been a lot of great history with Indiana and Kentucky over the years and we’ve been privileged to be a part of it,” Crean said. “There’s some — there’s been a lot of tremendous games. Obviously it’s a rivalry because of the history of it, because of the proximity of the two states, but because the two basketball teams have been good when it’s been at its best. So I would say that’s the biggest thing.”
Tennessee-Chattanooga coach Matt McCall made it sound like he expects Indiana to win Saturday.
“There is no question that I think they’re going to make a really deep run into this thing with how talented with the ball, and Yogi Ferrell did an unbelievable job controlling the game. And that’s why he is one of the best point guards in the country,” McCall said. “It’s no question they won the Big Ten for a reason because of how good they are and I could see those guys making a deep run into this thing.”
Calipari was lavish in his praise of the Hoosiers after the game.
“Tom Crean should be (national) coach of the year. He loses his best player and wins the conference. They pass the ball. They shoot the ball. We know how hard the game is. We are just happy we are playing another game,” Calipari said.