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For over three months, Kentucky players have seen Christian Watfordâ€™s game-winning shot that gave Indiana a 73-72 victory over No. 1 UK be shown over and over as part of ESPNâ€™s promotion for its college basketball coverage.
In recent weeks, several Cats admitted that replay had helped motivate the team during its 24-game win streak that was snapped by Vanderbilt in the Southeastern Conference Tournament final. But now UK finally has a chance to erase that memory when it plays Indiana again in Atlanta on Friday night in the NCAA Tournament South Region semifinals.
â€œIndiana is a great club. We have to come out thinking they did beat us the first time, so they can beat us again. We have to make sure we are ready,â€ said Kentucky freshman Anthony Davis, who had 15 points and 15 rebounds that game despite picking up two fouls in the first half. â€œIt really doesnâ€™t matter who we play. We just want to win. They beat us before, and weâ€™ve seen that shot over and over on ESPN. But we know it will be a hard game.
â€œWe canâ€™t think of this as revenge or payback or whatever the case may be. We have to come out with intensity like we had tonight (in an 87-71 victory over Iowa State Saturday), lock up and have fun.â€
Kentucky coach John Calipari praised the Hoosiers before they beat his Wildcats, and says Indiana is an even better team now and that coach Tom Crean, a long-time friend, has done an â€œunbelievable jobâ€ with the team.
â€œRight now Indiana, we’re better than we were, but so’s Indiana. Think about where that program was and where he (Crean) has got that thing going now.Â He’s got a great recruiting class coming in,â€ Calipari said. â€œSo I said this beginning of the year, they’ll be a top five program in short order. Everybody looked at me and thought I was crazy. Shoot, they may be a top five now.
â€œThey’ve got terrific players. They’ve got competitors. And as far as game preparation, you’re not going to have a better coach than Tom. He’s as good as they get.â€
Calipari says if he has to play friends in the NCAA, he would prefer it be in a championship game, not a regional semifinal.
â€œI cannot stand playing friends because, if they win, I’m sick after the game. And if I win, I enjoy it, but I don’t enjoy it because I know what they’re going through because I know how it is,â€ Calipari said. â€œBut this is two programs that are storied programs, both of them. I can’t again tell you what my respect with how he coaches and preparation.â€
Creanâ€™s Hoosiers certainly prepared for UKâ€ˆsophomore Terrence Jones the first game. He had just four points and one rebound and was so ineffective that Calipari kept him on the bench the final minutes.
Jones says that game is history.
â€œThat was so many games ago. Teams like them and us get so much better from then to now. It is going to be a completely different team for them and us. too,â€ Jones said. â€œIâ€ˆjust want us to win. With this type of team we have, it can be anybodyâ€™s night. I am not trying to do anything spectacular to prove any points. As long as I do my job of rebounding and defending whoever Iâ€ˆam guarding, whoever got it going that night has it going.
â€œThey beat us before. They will be excited and we will try to do the same and we have to match their intensity and do as best we can. We had a lot of different things that occurred in that game that canâ€™t occur really. Just the way we started. When they started trapping, we missed a few layups. The crowd was really into the game. It will not be like that in Atlanta. It will be a different game and another opportunity for both teams to show how much they have improved.â€
Kentucky played in front of a near capacity UK crowd at Louisville in wins over Western Kentucky and Iowa State. The Georgia Dome could be full of blue-clad fans, too.
â€œEverywhere we go our fans follow us and give us a lot of support. I am definitely expecting it to be real blue in there,â€ Jones said.
Kentucky sophomore Doron Lamb says the Wildcats are â€œexcitedâ€ just to still be playing after a 20-2 spurt Saturday that came after Iowa State tied the game 42-42 early in the second half.
â€œThe most important thing is to advance. Indiana is a great team and beat us last time. So we know we have to play better than we did the first time against them when they outworked us,â€ Lamb, who had 19 points but was only 5-for-14 from the field against Indiana. â€œIt is an honor to keep advancing. Itâ€™s hard to get there and we made it. We are playing great basketball as a team and making shots. Now we have to be ready to play another great team.â€
Kentucky shot 55.6 percent (30-for-54) at Indiana, including 68 percent (17-for-25) the second half. However, UKâ€ˆwas 2-for-7 from 3-point range compared to 9-for-15 for Indiana. Kentucky also went 10-for-17 at the foul line while Indiana was 14-for-17.
Verdell Jones had eight points, four rebounds and three assists for the Hoosiers in that game but is out for the season with an injury. Watford had 20 points and went 4-for-6 from 3-point range and four other Hoosiers scored in double figures. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist had 18 points and nine rebounds for UK and Marquis Teague overcame a shaky first half to finish with 15 points and five assists.
â€œWe know them. They know us. Itâ€™s just about who makes plays,â€ Jones said. â€œOur young guys saw how the level of play goes up and how much more physical the game gets with each round you advance (in the NCAA). A team is not going to give up. They are going to play 40 minutes and we have to bring our best 40 minutes to beat Indiana.â€