This is one of the most deceptive scores I have ever posted in all my life. Despite the lopsided-looking margin, the Indiana Hoosiers brought their "A" game into Rupp Arena and for 32 of the 40 minutes took it to the Kentucky Wildcats, making for an exciting, and if you are a Kentucky fan, terrifying game.
Congratulations and a standing ovation to the Hoosiers for a world-class effort in an ultimately losing cause. I told you that rivalry games are different (as if you, Dear Reader, did not already know that), and I was afraid that we could wind up in a dogfight late in the game. I was right. I wish I was wrong, but I'll say this -- it made for an exciting, entertaining game.
The Hoosiers simply would not give up, and kept making big shot after big shot. Tom Crean's coaching worked perfectly in many ways, recognizing that the UK defense had to guard close to protect against the three and repeatedly back-cut the Wildcats for layups and fouls.
Crean also used a set play to get Terrence Jones his third foul early in the second half and essentially took Jones out of the game for the early part of the half. At one point, Kentucky was in serious danger of having to go deep into a very thin bench, but to his credit, John Calipari did an outstanding job of managing the team with fouls. He's getting good at that, and he'll get plenty more practice this year.
I was very impressed with the improvement in Christian Watford and Jordan Hulls. Maurice Creek was okay, but he is not the same player that lit up UK for 31 last year, and it really showed toward the end of this game. Still, Hoosier fans should be proud of coming into Rupp Arena with a smallish, undermanned team and making Kentucky fans sweat bullets for a long, long time.
- The game ball doesn't even require two brain cells to rub together -- Josh Harrellson was the man today, as strange as that may seem, with a double-double. According to Gametracker, who's stats are often questionable, Harrellson had 14 points and 12 rebounds, six of them offensive. He made all his free throws (there goes that odd stat of zero free throws so far) and generally willed this team to a victory.
- Brandon Knight started slow, but finished strong. He didn't shoot the ball well tonight, but he made some big shots late and 10/10 from the line, plus having 4 assists to only 1 turnover.
- DeAndre Liggins did not have a great game against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, but he really had a great one today. He was runner-up to Harrellson when it comes to the game ball, and to be honest, was just as instrumental to this victory. He almost managed a double-double of his own with 19 points and 9 rebounds, along with innumerable hustle plays.
- I though Darius Miller played okay, although only two rebounds give me heartburn. He didn't shoot the ball particularly well, but I thought the officials missed a couple of really egregious fouls that he should have been the beneficiary of.
- Doron Lamb is still the coolest guy on the team. He missed a couple of wide-open threes that could have put the game away a few minutes earlier and generally shot the ball poorly, but he made himself a threat to score at all times.
- Terrence Jones had a bad game, but he made some free throws down the stretch that mattered. Still, he has to learn how to be effective when playing with fouls.
- I would have liked to see more of Stacey Poole and Jon Hood. Alas, not this game.
- Eloy Vargas had 3 rebounds in only 10 minutes. He isn't very good yet, but that stat is more encouraging than discouraging.
- Team defense got a lot better late in the game. I don't know what took them so long to get going, but it really got good with about 10 minutes to go.
- A lot more dribble drive today, and if we had shot the ball better, we could have put the game away much earlier. The pick and roll, which UK has run a lot lately, took a back seat to the DDM.
The very best thing I can say about this game is that we won. Let's be honest, this was not Kentucky's best game, but I will say that this was the best they have finished a game all year. They were struggling against an inferior but dangerous opponent, and I have seen UK teams fail open in that situation like a burnt-out circuit breaker. But not this team.
In the end, the way they finished this tough rivalry game is encouraging. The way Kentucky played 32 of the 40 minutes is a bit disconcerting, but as the old golf saying goes, "It isn't how, it's how many." This team got it done in the end when other teams haven't in similar situations. I like that.