Apologies for the lack of a true postmortem last night. It's hard to tell whether the nightcap or pure adrenalin fatigue won the race to put me down for the night, but it was probably a little of both.
There's always a side benefit of perspective that accompanies the morning after a game, rather than the night of the contest, which is appropriate in this case. Probably owing to the extremely high expectations of this team, it seems that many Wildcats fans, including your humble correspondent, felt a lot of pressure to win this game. I dearly hope the team doesn't feel this much, because I can't imagine how anyone can have a clear head with all these emotions and excitement swirling around, mixing up their hormones.
Congratulations to the Indiana Hoosiers on a great season. I know that most Hoosier fans don't feel like being congratulated in the aftermath of the ending of their team's magical run this year, but after they have time to reflect and assimilate last night's events, I think they will find that they had a terrific season that they can be proud of. The future is nothing but bright for the Hoosiers, and their long night is finally over. Great effort by coach Crean and an outstanding IU team.
For Kentucky, this was the game I feared. All week I harped on how unwise it was for the Wildcats to get into a running game with Indiana, and for 20 minutes, that's exactly what they did. It nearly cost them. The Hoosiers are a dangerous team in a game with a fast pace, and last night they reminded those who had forgotten, or who had never paid close attention to how they play, just why that is.
The first half of this game saw two heavyweight fighters standing toe-to-toe in the middle of the ring swinging haymakers, one after another. Both teams were in foul trouble, both teams expended vast amounts of energy, and both teams really needed that long halftime to catch their breath. The Wildcats, on the strength of an explosion by Michael Kidd-Gilchrist after a very slow start, somehow scratched out a 3-point halftime lead.
But the second half, it seemed that sanity returned to this Kentucky team. They forced the pace back down to where it was no longer helping Indiana as much, and when that happened, the Wildcats slowly but surely built a durable lead that would hold until the end. As the game crept closer and closer to the ten-minute mark and Anthony Davis, who set out most of the first half with fouls got nearer and nearer to being fully unleashed, I began to feel good about the trajectory of the contest.
Then, at about the 11:30 mark in the game, Kentucky coach John Calipari unleashed the Kracken that is Davis. He struck off the shackles, said "Sic 'em," and all of the sudden, shots that the Hoosers had been getting up on the boards unimpeded were challenged and altered. Cody Zeller was suddenly unable to catch the ball in the paint and run straight to the rim -- now Davis was defending him like he is capable of, rather than having to back off. That was the turning of the tide, and even though Davis' numbers are fairly modest, you could see the impact of his game when he was freed from the chains of foul trouble.
- Darius Miller, Doron Lamb, and MKG were each critical to this victory. Miller was 6-8, with several timely shots including a couple of long threes for 19 points. Lamb was 6-10 for 21, and MKG was 7-15 for 24 including ten big rebounds. Game balls, all three of them.
- Terrence Jones was a force of nature in the first half, but he vanished in the second. Maybe the Hoosier candy-striped warmups trigger mini-seizures in his game, I don't know.
- Marquis Teague struggled from the field, missing many layups and short jumpers, but he did everything else right. 7 assists, 2 turnovers, 6-6 from the line and a critical play that put the 5th foul on Victor Oladipo and drove a nail into the IU coffin.
- Kyle Wiltjer had one big three, but otherwise didn't play much, logging a surprisingly low six minutes.
- Eloy Vargas and Twany Beckham also played, briefly, and helped.
- Doron Lamb really took Jordan Hulls to school. That matchup did not go at all well for IU.
- Free throw shooting. Team free throw shooting was off the charts, crazy good. 35-37, and you can't believe how tough that was to type, it's like my mind couldn't make my fingers do it.
- Kentucky did a good job of guarding the three.
Not so superlative:
- What happened to our defense? Seriously, IU shredded our defense like it was tissue paper. Oladipo completely abused MKG of the bounce, and Christian Watford treated Terrence Jones like a high-school 3-star. Frankly, it was a little bit embarrassing, and we'd all be pulling our hair out if not for the outcome.
- I understand that Zeller was going to have a big game from the start because of the importance of Davis, but couldn't we have tried something different, just for a few possessions? I guess it doesn't matter in the end, but I hate seeing a guy able to score at will on this team, it's just ... wrong, somehow.
- I hate complaining about the officiating, but it was really inconsistent. In the first half, everything was a foul, and in the second half, the started letting them play. Don't do that, guys, please give us consistency if nothing else. Yes, I could make many more complaints on this subject, but I have already said more than I like to. We won the game, after all.
- I hope we exorcised whatever demon possessed us to get into a track meet with Indiana. I assume that was not a coaching decision, because if it was, my estimation of Coach Cal's bench ability would have to be revised. The second half was much more controlled, pace wise, and it showed. My rough numbers show the pace at almost 77 (North Carolina-fast) in the first half, and 69 in the second, using Ken Pomeroy's current formula.
I could probably complain about a dozen other things, but why? We WON, and now move on to our third straight Elite Eight round against the Baylor Bears, who present a significantly different challenge than IU, but at this point, it's just another mountain to climb, albeit with much less preparation.
Congratulations, Wildcats. You have survived and advanced. Do it two more times, and you'll have a chance to hang banner #8 in Rupp Arena.