Perhaps the most anticipated of Saturday’s March Madness games was a matchup between two heralded programs. Indiana and Kentucky have 13 national titles between them (Kentucky has eight) and their fans intensely dislike each other. It is a true rivalry.
Indiana broke away from a 50-50 tie midway through the second half, and then hung on for a 73-67 victory over their rivals from the Bluegrass State, earning a spot in the Sweet 16 for the third time in five years.
It was a game that did not disappoint those looking for a hard fought matchup between two good teams. Two of the nation’s premiere point guards were on display: Yogi Ferrell of Indiana and Tyler Ulis of Kentucky.
The tournament selection committee can say all they want about not orchestrating this matchup in the round of 32, but this was a game that should have occurred not later than the Sweet 16 round.
Indiana won the regular season championship in the Big 10, while Kentucky tied with Texas A&M in the SEC and defeated the Aggies in the tournament title game. Despite this, the Wildcats were seeded below Texas A&M. Kentucky was given a four seed while Indiana was designated as a fifth seed. Both of these teams are better than that and they proved it on the court.
Both teams played strong, aggressive defense that allowed neither to gain any semblance of control of the game. The Wildcats largest lead of the first half was seven points, while the Hoosiers biggest advantage was two points. Indiana led at half 33-32.
Indiana jumped out to a quick 38-32 lead to open the second half. Just as quickly, Kentucky scored eight straight, featuring back-to-back three pointers by Ulis and his outstanding back court partner, Jamal Murray.
It was 50-50 with 7:44 left when Indiana made a decisive 12-2 run that put them ahead 62-52 with 4:14 remaining. Ulis took the deficit as a challenge and guided Kentucky back to within 68-65 with 36 seconds left.
Indiana’s freshman center, Thomas Bryant made four of six free throws down the stretch to seal the victory. The Hoosiers (27-7) travel to Philadelphia for Friday night matchup with the winner of top-seeded North Carolina vs. Providence.
“Congratulations to Indiana,” said Kentucky Coach John Calipari. “I thought they played a terrific game and deserved to win the game. They did what they had to do to hold on and win that game.”
Two other important factors led Indiana to the victory. Freshman O.G. Anunoby played tremendous defense on Murray, scored 7 points and had three key blocked shots. The Indiana bench outscored Kentucky’s reserves, 18-7.
“We’re obviously elated to win a game of this magnitude, not just because it is the NCAA Tournament and the round of 32, but because it is against such a great program,” Indiana Coach Tom Crean said. “That team was every bit as good as what we thought they were from watching them on film.”
The victory exercised a few demons for Indiana. Those old enough to remember still smart from Kentucky’s 92-90 upset of Indiana’s team on its way to the 1975 national title. They knocked out the Hoosiers again in 1983 and in 2012, both times in the regional semi-finals. The latter was the last meeting between the schools until Saturday.
They no longer play during the regular season because of a dispute among the coaches as to where to play the games. Crean wants the games to be played on campus, while Calipari prefers neutral sites.
After this highly entertaining and competitive game, perhaps a compromise could be reached. That would be good for fans of both schools as well as basketball fans around the country.