One of college basketball's oldest rivalries was renewed Saturday, as the Indiana Hoosiers defeated the Kentucky Wildcats, 73-67, to reach the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2013.
As expected, the game was close for most of the way, with Indiana holding a 33-32 lead at halftime. There were signs the Hoosiers could pull away, as ESPN.com's Eamonn Brennan pointed out:
Your star senior guard, Yogi Ferrell, went 2-of-7 from the field and 0-for-3 from 3, submitted just seven points in 19 minutes, and allowed himself to be taken out of the game with simple denial press. Your lights-out perimeter attack managed just 3-of-11 from 3. You scored 33 points in 36 possessions. Kentucky dictated the terms of engagement.
Another reason for optimism on the Indiana sideline was that it all happened as Kentucky's Tyler Ulis was having his way with the defense:
Ulis and Jamal Murray were the only threats for Kentucky's offense Saturday. Ulis, particularly in the first half, was a one-man machine, per ESPN Stats & Info:
Tyler Ulis has created 18 of Kentucky's 32 points (12 pts, 6 pts off assists), but Indiana leads UK 33-32 at halftime.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) March 19, 2016
The duo combined for 43 points, seven rebounds and seven assists. Ulis, who led the way with 27 points, had to contend with foul trouble, picking up his third with less than eight minutes remaining in the second half and eventually fouling out as time was winding down.
Of course, Indiana's early shooting woes from the outside had a lot to do with Kentucky's perimeter defense. The Wildcats ranked 28th in percentage of opponents' points from three-pointers and 75th in opponents' three-point percentage.
The Hoosiers also had to deal with injuries during the game. Robert Johnson injured his left ankle in the first half and was unable to return, per CBS Sports' Tracy Wolfson. OG Anunoby also suffered an ankle injury early in the second half, but he returned after a brief stint on the bench. Juwan Morgan suffered a shoulder injury and missed most of the second half.
Indiana head coach Tom Crean's depth was tested down the stretch, but his team responded to the adversity in resounding fashion. The Hoosiers tied their largest lead of the game, six points, after Anunoby made his first three with less than seven minutes remaining.
Sports Illustrated's Seth Davis noted how rare it is to see Anunoby connect from beyond the arc:
OG Anunoby just made his 13th three pointer of the season. Well timed I'd say.— Seth Davis (@SethDavisHoops) March 19, 2016
That was around the time that Indiana's turnaround, predicted by Brennan, began. With the score tied at 50, the Hoosiers went on a 12-2 run.
There was a glimmer of hope for Kentucky with just over two minutes remaining, as Indiana committed a shot-clock violation after Ferrell passed on an off-balance shot so Thomas Bryant could attempt a three:
However, the Wildcats were unable to convert on their ensuing possession, as Anunoby had a huge block to set up Bryant for a thunderous redemption:
Ulis did his best to carry Kentucky back in the final minute, scoring eight consecutive points and nailing three free throws after Troy Williams fouled him behind the arc to cut the deficit to 68-65.
After Bryant made one of two free throws for Indiana, Kentucky let 18 seconds run off the clock before Alex Poythress was fouled with 11 seconds remaining. The senior hit both of his attempts, bringing the deficit to 69-67.
ESPN's Jay Williams was confused by Kentucky's offensive strategy at the end of the game:
Don't understand why #BBN keeps wasting time running plays 4 Murray right now. High ball screen for Ulis every possession late in this game.— Jay Williams (@RealJayWilliams) March 19, 2016
Bryant went back to the free-throw line after receiving the inbounds pass, made both of his attempts and left Kentucky with 10.4 seconds to find four points.
Indiana's offensive production wasn't spread out, either. The bulk of the Hoosiers' scoring came from Bryant (19 points), Ferrell (18) and Williams (13). Collin Hartman and Nick Zeisloft, Indiana's other starters, had just five combined points.
The win was especially sweet for Crean, with ESPN Stats & Info pointing out all the milestones the Hoosiers and their head coach reached:
Indiana beats Kentucky!— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) March 19, 2016
Tom Crean joins Fred Taylor (OSU) as only coaches to beat Kentucky 3x in NCAA Tournament pic.twitter.com/2edoBx2rVD
It's been a good turnaround for Crean, who has his own dedicated Fire Tom Crean account on Twitter, which could offer only one response after the win:
Now, Crean can focus on getting his team past the Sweet 16. He's been unable to get beyond that round since taking Marquette to the Final Four in 2003, when Dwyane Wade was on his roster.
The Hoosiers showed their shooting touch in the second half as well as defensive aptitude, limiting Kentucky to 42 percent shooting overall. If those trends continue next week, Crean's team will go far in March.
After the game, head coach John Calipari told the media Kentucky's two biggest problems were not executing up to its usual standards with six offensive fouls and not being able to convert open opportunities, via Fox Sports:
One key stat mentioned by Calipari is the Wildcats had just eight assists on 24 made field goals. They weren't a great team at distributing the basketball during the season, averaging just 14.5 assists per game, but this game was below their standards.
For the victors, there was nothing but happiness. Ferrell gave a shout out to all of Indiana's fans on the CBS broadcast, via Adam Zagoria of SNY.tv:
'We got one for Hoosier-land so I'm just proud of that' Yogi Ferrell on CBS— Adam Zagoria (@AdamZagoria) March 19, 2016
Crean almost got emotional on the CBS broadcast after the victory, telling Tracy Wolfson (via VT Academy Hoops) he didn't "want to stop coaching this team. That's what I'm most thankful for, that I get to keep coaching them for another week."
That's exactly what Crean knows he has, with the possibility for a lot more depending on how things play out in the Sweet 16.
Stats per TeamRankings.com unless otherwise noted.
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