As a Kentucky fan, this game pisses me off more than words can adequately describe. The invective I shouted at the screen during the contest makes me grateful that my dear wife is not presently here to have had to suffer through my harsh language. This loss hurts, and when a rival, especially a formerly moribund rival, takes us down, it hurts a lot more than dropping a normal league game to an unlikely foe. Ouch.
Now that I've said all that, I want to congratulate the Indiana Hoosiers. It has been a long road back for IU since Kelvin Sampson burned their program to the ground back in 2008. While I hate that it must be done on the back of a Kentucky defeat, I welcome the Hoosiers back to relevance, back to the big time. Indiana is a program, no matter how much many of us despise them, that is worthy of the re-emergence. Tom Crean is a great coach and a nice man, by all accounts, and he is a good friend of Coach Cal, and has never shown anything but the highest character. As difficult as it is for Kentucky fans to say, IU and UK are much more alike than different, and IU is a legendary program that deserves our highest respect.
Now, IU fans, you may want to stop reading. I have given you all due credit, and praised you mightily and deservedly. But after the jump, you might see some sour grapes. Sorry, but that's how partisanship goes. I advise you to stop here, and go home to your well-earned celebration. You deserve it. But now I must abandon equanimity for partiality, not just because it is expected of me, but because I feel it in the depths of my soul.
This was a gift from God to the state of Indiana, and to the Indiana Hoosiers. I don't ask God why he does things, but His imprint was on this game from tip to horn. I knew, and I mean knew, exactly what the outcome would be when UK began to come back in the second half. It was obvious to me, as a fan of basketball, that God Himself is also a big fan of the game and just loves to stick it to the big guy occasionally.
Consider this: Terrence Jones had the game from Hell. I saw him get benched in the second half, and for a moment, the camera focused on his face, and it was a face writ large with complete confusion. He mouthed, "What is going on?", and it was a question encompassing the entirety of his completely hopeless effort. Every ball he touched seemed to be coated with grease. Every rebound he got, he somehow lost. Every move he made was countered. Everything he did was thwarted. If Jones didn't believe in the Almighty before this game, he definitely does now.
Why do I keep raising all this religious stuff? It's simple -- only a Supreme Being can explain the way Terrence Jones played (or rather, failed to play) today. It isn't as if he had an off shooting day, or didn't really try, or just felt out of sorts. Jones gave it his all for about 25 minutes, and utterly failed in every way, at every turn. Only one basket, a dunk he made by an effort of will, looked remotely like his normal game. It was a breathtaking exercise in total futility. Eventually, he just threw up his hands and surrendered to the inevitable.
There are a lot of things that could have caused some of Jones' struggles -- the crowd, the huge victory over the North Carolina Tar Heels last Saturday, a bit of overconfidence -- any of those could account for a partial collapse of his game. But this wasn't just a partial collapse, it was a complete loss of integrity for the entirety of his game. That rarely happens in sports, and when it does, it is usually in an upset like this. In other words, it is an argument for divine intervention.
Then there was the way the game was played. IU couldn't score in the first half from anywhere but 15 feet -- the foul line. UK held them to a ridiculous percentage, but kept failing to put the ball in themselves. It was a bizarre, almost comedic game, like what you might see if the Keystone Cops tried basketball instead of law enforcement.
The second half saw Indiana shoot an unconscious 60% from the perimeter. Some of them were just open looks. Some were challenged heavily. But it didn't seem to matter -- they all went in. and when the Hoosiers needed a basket, the ball magically bounced to them, or into the hoop, even from above the backboard. In the waning moments, they inexplicably struggled to score and UK caught up and took the lead. Then, with a chance to go back up, IU tuns the ball over for the 18th and final time, and Doron Lamb, an 89% free throw shooter, gets fouled with a chance to go up 3 with two made free throws and forestall the possibility of a loss on a long 3-point shot by IU.
This is the point at which those who didn't see the Hand of God a the 5:00 mark got a close-up look at His palm. Lamb missed the free throw, came back after an icing time-out by Crean, and made the second, barely, putting UK up by 2 and in the perfect position to die by the last-second three. That shot came from Christian Watford with less than a second remaining, and never touched the rim.
Tomorrow, after I recover from a likely hangover, I'll discuss the various reasons why we lost from a technical standpoint, although I must tell you that is probably a waste of time. Some things just defy explanation, and this loss is most definitely one of those things -- no disrespect to IU, but this was a Kentucky team that nobody has ever seen this year.
I should, and will, give a shout-out to Michael Kidd-Gilcrhist for bringing his "A" game and leaving every iota of it on the court trying to change the pre-ordained outcome. But not even the will of the great player Kidd-Gilcrhist is becoming can overcome the will of the Almighty. Doron Lamb and Darius Miller also deserve an honorable mention, and even though Marquis Teague and Miller both sucked in the first half, the both shone brightly in the second.
But for now, trust me when I say that the old saying, "If you want to hear God laugh, tell him your plans," was on full display tonight. For this game, he was on the side of the bad guys, the Hoosiers, the opponent. He was right there with them, not to send a message to Kentucky, but to send one to the college basketball world -- the Hoosiers have suffered enough. But they aren't suffering right now, and ESPN has yet another Instant Classic starring the University of Kentucky -- this time in the role of defeated Goliath at the hands of the Hoosier Davids.
Is this a rivalry now? Just askin'.