As Indiana learned, Kentucky is a different breed of ‘Cat

The nation's best player isn't above diving for a ball. (AJC photo by Hyosub Shin)

The nation's best player isn't above diving after a loose ball. (AJC photo by Hyosub Shin)

To view the faces of the Indiana Hoosiers early Saturday morning was to see incredulity on parade. They’d made 52.2 percent of their shots against an opponent that on average had limited teams to 37 percent. They’d made eight turnovers in 40 frenzied-yet-focused minutes. They had, as coach Tom Crean kept noting, scored 90 points.

And they’d lost by 12. They were like Sham in the 1973 Kentucky Derby: They’d run the race of their lives, but they’d run it against Secretariat.

Said John Calipari, Kentucky’s coach: “Indiana played great. We just happened to play a little better.”

Indiana was ready for Kentucky — the Hoosiers had beaten UK in December, so they knew what was coming — and they got big performances from everyone. (Five starters in double figures.) They scored 90 points against a team that hadn’t yielded even 75 this season. As noted, they lost by 12.

It felt close, but really it wasn’t. In the second half, the Hoosiers didn’t have the ball with the chance to seize a lead. They kept chasing, but Kentucky never broke stride. The Wildcats’ best player, who has won several awards for being the nation’s best player, accrued two early fouls and wound up taking only five shots. Anthony Davis finished as his team’s sixth-leading scorer on the night, and it mattered not one whit.

Crean on Kentucky: “As talented as they are, they’re also hard-nosed young men.”

The Kentucky on display in this Sweet 16 was reminiscent of the crew that made off with the nets when last the NCAA tournament graced the Georgia Dome. In 2007 Florida came here and took its second consecutive championship, and those Gators had it all. They were tall and fast and fearless, and they played as if they liked and respected one another. More than a collection, they were a team.

Kentucky has developed a similar mesh, and the Wildcats are — and I don’t say this lightly — even more gifted than those Gators. Forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist hadn’t managed 20 points in a game this calendar year and had mustered only 11 in the first two games of this tournament; he scored 24 points and took 12 rebounds against IU. Doron Lamb, who gets lost amid the ‘Cat stars, scored 21. Darius Miller, who doesn’t even start but who’s the smartest player in the land, scored 19 points on eight shots.

Like the great Gators, these Wildcats don’t care who shoots. The lingering memory of Florida’s second title run was, in a tight regional semifinal against Butler, Corey Brewer throwing the ball to Al Horford on the left block and demanding that he make a basket. (Horfy obliged, converting a three-point play.)

Of the 64 shots the Wildcats hoisted against Indiana, maybe five were less than prime, and two were taken by Davis in the attempt to make up for time he spent on the bench in the first half. Calming himself, he was content to defend and rebound the rest of the night. The collegiate player of the year took one shot over the game’s final 12 minutes, and it was a point-blank follow.

The champion Gators stuck around for their junior seasons after winning the title as sophomores, and they won another without undue strain. There’s no guarantee these Wildcats will win even once, and no one believes they’ll stay intact beyond this season. But let’s say, suspending our disbelief, that this was 1994 and not 2012 and one-and-done careers weren’t yet the rule. Might this have become a team to rival the the Gators of Horford and Noah, the Duke of Laettner and Hurley, the Indiana of May and Benson?

The Wildcats could still lose, but it will take a great team playing its best to unhorse them. (And that’s the thing: Kentucky doesn’t often let an opponent play its best.) And these ‘Cats don’t figure to fall victim to nerves, as has happened with some very good Kentucky teams. The reaction to beating Indiana wasn’t a sigh of relief but an outpouring of genuine happiness. These guys liked what they’d done, and they’d liked doing it.

When it was done, Kidd-Gilchrist and Calipari walked over for a word with the UK radio crew. Kidd-Gilchrist threw his arm around the coach’s shoulders and said, “I love you.”

“I love you, too,” Calipari said, and then the broadcaster Tom Leach asked what he would tell his players when they gathered in the locker room.

Here Calipari, who doesn’t smile all that much, broke out a wide-angle grin. “I’ll say, ‘We’re movin’ on, boys! We’re movin’ on!’”

By Mark Bradley

43 comments Add your comment

J Clay

March 24th, 2012
11:02 am

UNC with Marshall is only team that can beat UK at their best. Of course, any of the teams left can beat them if they have an off game.

Beast from the East

March 24th, 2012
11:06 am

Great read, Mark. These Cats are as talented as any college team I’ve seen, but let’s not put them in the same calls with the 04’s. Those guys were as good a “team” as I have ever seen. Totally unselfish, extremely talented and every player knew their role and bought into Bily’s philosophy 100%. Being a Gator, I might be slightly biased.

What are your thoughts on Pitino vs Billy the Kid?

Beast from the East

March 24th, 2012
11:08 am

typo…class not calls

Mark Bradley

March 24th, 2012
11:09 am

I’m not putting UK in Florida’s class just yet. The Gators were a great team who won two titles. Kentucky is still working on one.

That said, Kentucky’s mindset does remind me of Florida’s. And I do think UK has a bit better talent. (Which is saying something, as I tried to suggest.)

Beast from the East

March 24th, 2012
11:15 am

I agree with you that this UK team is more talented. Not many role players like UF had. Just pure athletes that are fast, long and fearless. Too bad this is the only season we’ll get to see this squad together. I would still like to see the Gators get one more shot at them. I think this Gator squad has grown up a ton mentally since the regular season.

LakeDawg

March 24th, 2012
11:25 am

I’m looking forward to the UF/Louisville game today. Should be very entertaining. Believe it or not, I’m pulling for the Gators. I like Donovan. I think he’s grown into a premier coach and he has a lot of class..

GoPackGo

March 24th, 2012
11:35 am

How long until Calipari gets Kentucky on probation?

Hoops Dawg

March 24th, 2012
11:37 am

This is hard for me to admit (as I usually detest Kentucky teams) but I actually like this group of wildcats. They are relatively selfless and to see the way they can play D should dispell any commentary that would question coach Cal’s coaching ability. I particularly like and respect Darius Miller who would be the man on most other teams in this league. A senior who doesn’t pout about his non-starter status, all he does is make big plays whenever he gets in the game. Every great team has players like this, and Darius ought to get some consideration as KY’s MVP.

Rocketman

March 24th, 2012
11:37 am

I know this thrilled you–and I’m glad it did—I would be very disappointed in you if it didn’t.

Hoops Dawg

March 24th, 2012
11:40 am

And what kind of job is Billy Donovan doing with this gator bunch!!! I used to root hard for the gator championship teams simply because of the team aspect of their play, which reflects their coach–a class act. The ole SEC looks pretty strong in this tournament for a league that was robbed, in my opinion, by receiving only four bids.

timboy6

March 24th, 2012
11:42 am

LakeDawg I agree. I’m a Dawg fan too, but I’ll pull for Florida today. Donovan is on of the best 5 coaches in the nation and he’s a classy guy!

timboy6

March 24th, 2012
11:42 am

typo not on, but one

heeldawg

March 24th, 2012
12:28 pm

IMHO, no team can beat the UK team in this tourney except Carolina with Marshall. And if the Heels do make it that far (which is far from a given), even if Marshall is back he won’t be 100%.

Gotta give the favorite’s mantle to UK right now…

Aaron

March 24th, 2012
12:29 pm

Yeah, cause 27 points off free throws is playing so much better. The officials in this game were horrid. And I’m not even an IU fanboy.

bogarttad

March 24th, 2012
12:29 pm

The Ky-IU game demonstrated great coaching, great talent, and even greater heart-and I am talking about BOTH teams. This is college sports at its very finest, even if there was a 12 point gap. No losers in between the lines for that one!

david

March 24th, 2012
12:30 pm

man, whats the world coming to when Dawgs are rooting for gators? I gotta pull for Louisville since I have them to the final 4. Could you imagine Lousiville / Kentucky/ Syracuse and UNC in the final 4- man some blue bloods there.

BradleyFan

March 24th, 2012
1:09 pm

heeldawg, UK beat UNC already this season when the team was far less imposing as it is now. With Marshall or without him, UK beats UNC unless they suffer some major failure. Baylor poses a larger threat to the ‘Cats taking number 8.

Give this group of ‘Cats multiple years together, and they would most certainly match, if not exceed, the Gators’ multiple titles.

Observer

March 24th, 2012
1:14 pm

The Kentucky basketball program is just like its SEC mirror image in football the Alabama program- just plain dominant both conference wise and nationally.

Vols85

March 24th, 2012
1:39 pm

As a Vol who has bled orange since 1969 it is my obligation, nay, my alumni card carrying duty to detest all things Big Blue. That the slickest, cheatingest coach (see UMass & Memphis) this side of a Tarkanian used car salesman now leads the team is just icing on the hate cake. This said, I have a passion for college hoops. Mark, you hit the nail on the head here. As my son & I were discussing the game this a.m. I told him, “you basically (if you’re the opponent) have to play the perfect game and then some.” IU had 47 points AT THE HALF and was still down by three. For most tourney games that the total points well into the 2nd half. They shot well and they executed their game plan well. Even when Cody Zeller went to the bench w/two first half fouls IU pushed through. But this UK team is, like your Big Red analogy suggests, relentless. And, unlike other Calipari coached squads, there appears to be more attention paid to discipline, shot selection, and fundamentals than the proverbial one and done mentality of getting to the NBA. IU played well enough to defeat any other team last night, but they didn’t have the requisite fire power to make the final push. To defeat UK a team has to match them shot for shot. Look at it this way: when the Hoosiers defeated the Cats earlier this season it took a final shot of the game, as time expired, at home at Assembly Hall, holding them to EIGHT points below their regular season average (80.3). Good thing they had the last shot on that day back in December. So, begrudingly, as my pick to win it all (Michigan State) is out and my brackets have bled out, I now surmise that nothing short of a perfect game by an opponent or Coach Cal’s interference can deter the Cats from adding to their list of championship banners. Note to Sparty: It takes more than five points at the nine minute mark to win any basketball game played post Phil Ford and the Four Corners offense. Geez.

no class

March 24th, 2012
2:00 pm

I will laugh so hard if Ky loses on Sunday after all of these articles by you on hard great they are, yeah I get it you are alum

bamaguy

March 24th, 2012
3:29 pm

Let’s just hope we put two SEC teams in the final four. That would pretty much hush up all the “football conference” talk.

Oh, and I agree with Observer. Kentucky is to basketball as Alabama is to football.

Farnsworthy

March 24th, 2012
4:02 pm

I’ll give it no more than 1 year before we hear that the NCAA has Ky.’s basketball program in their sights. If they do win the tournament, it will be stripped away as part of the penalties.

Calipari

March 24th, 2012
4:07 pm

Okay, okay, I admit it. I cheat. So what? And I’ll probably get caught again, big deal. I really don’t care. My money will still be in the bank.

As for the fans and Univ. of Ky.? Suckers!!!

GwinnettDad

March 24th, 2012
4:08 pm

Here’s a bet. I’ll take Baylor tomorrow. As well as Kentucky played, I betcha they’re out of gas. And if this article was in Sports Illustrated, it would be the kiss of death. But as it is in the AJC? Well, I’ll still take Baylor.

Beast from the East

March 24th, 2012
4:25 pm

“Give this group of ‘Cats multiple years together, and they would most certainly match, if not exceed, the Gators’ multiple titles.”

Pretty bold statement considering they haven’t even been able to win their conference tournament yet. Let’s wait to see if they can win ONE title before they can match the Gators back-to-back titles…with the same starting five. Never been done before or since. They have the talent, but do they have the character and the heart? Time will tell.

GO GATORS!

Vols85

March 24th, 2012
6:03 pm

Farnsworthy, I remember making telling some UK alum friends who were so excited over the hire to not cry or whine WHEN, not if, the NCAA sets up shop in Lexington. As UGA did when Adams hired Jim Harrick, UK knew what they were getting when they hired Calipari. It’s buyer beware and if you’re willing to sacrifice your institutions integrity and have your program put on probation then, by all means, hire a man who to date has already put two other programs on probation and had their Final Four appearances stripped. It’s actually a perfect marriage. The most penalized program of any kind in the history of the NCAA, UK Mens Hoops, and the man who Kelvin Sampson pales in comparison to.

Nice job Donovan!

March 24th, 2012
7:00 pm

Way to go Billy! Did Rick teach you to stop running your offense and try to run the clock out with SIX MINUTES LEFT IN THE GAME YOU FREAKIN IDIOT!!!

sccatfan1

March 24th, 2012
7:30 pm

Farnsworthy, I’ll take the other side of that bet. How much do you want to lose? When we have guys line up begging to be offered by UK, why should we cheat? Also, Cal has NEVER had any NCAA sanctions related to his actions as a coach. You could look it up if you have the initiative..

ck

March 24th, 2012
8:22 pm

your precious coach had NCAA infractions at UMASS and MEMPHIS and I would say Ky is next but now the NCAA seems to overlook the SEC schools and appears to be on the take.. so if I am suppose to be impressed by this man or your school, sorry I am not. Pitino is the only present coach that comes to mind that is sorrier than Calipari

Calipari is the former head coach of the University of Memphis Tigers, the University of Massachusetts Minutemen, and the National Basketball Association’s New Jersey Nets. He is the only coach to direct three different colleges to a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, although two of those appearances (1996 at UMass and 2008 at Memphis) have been officially vacated by the NCAA.

Travis McGee

March 24th, 2012
10:06 pm

Enter your comments here

phil

March 24th, 2012
10:21 pm

Mercer just won on the road at Fairfield in a house of horrors gym in Connecticut.

On to the championship game of the CIT! Smaller school tournament, yes, but what a fun run it’s been!

Northern Neighbor

March 24th, 2012
10:27 pm

Vols85 & ck:You certainly have an abundance of unmediated gall to accuse someone of cheating, when the your favoriate School is currently serving out penalties imposed on TWO of it’s major sports. U-Mass was penalized because the NCAA learned that one of its players,Marcus Camby, had secretly signed a contract with an agent before his season was over. No one suggested Calapari knew about this. Memphis was penalized because of something Derrick Rose was accused of BEFORE he came to Memphis. Cal wes not implicated in that. Tell Bruce Pearl and Lame Kiffin I said Hey..

phil

March 24th, 2012
10:39 pm

Kentucky = corruption

B

March 25th, 2012
6:19 am

It was a great game. Kid-Gilchrist is ridiculous.

[...] As IU learned, UK different breed, says AJC’s Mark Bradley. [...]

GT

March 25th, 2012
9:46 am

No Big 10 in the final 4. There will be one ACC no matter what. SEC basketball… When the ACC’s tournament was here last week, and the place was packed, not much love from old Bradley. Really don’t need it, the ACC is a lot like the SEC football, it is self sustaining, only better it is in every major media outlet on the east coast, while the SEC hides it produce like revolutionaries hiding in the mountains of Haiti. Football works because it is mainly a weekend game but basketball has to be fed by a urban audience, week night games, players come from urban areas. There is no way to measure Kentucky playing in the SEC. If Marshall gets back UNC beats em, it not they will have to settle with just being a classier place to play basketball, something lost only by Mark Bradley.

Jones

March 25th, 2012
10:06 am

Cheering for Calipari and Kentucky is like cheering for Madoff in the financial markets- what a joke.

Mark Bradley

March 25th, 2012
11:20 am

Er, isn’t Ohio State in the Final Four?

All I'm Saying Is...

March 25th, 2012
11:59 am

Typical sports writer column: let me compare a team that has not even made it to final four let alone their first championship game to a team that won back-to-back titles. Slow your roll, Bradley.

What you should have focused on was the incredible free throw shooting performance of Kentucky. That is what has been Calipari’s Achille’s heel in the past and is the sole reason his Memphis team with Rose lost the championship game. In an interview after the game, Calipari gave insight as to what he does to incent his guys to make their free throws. Not sure if he use to do it but it certainly appears to be working.

By the way, I have Kentucky winning it all in my bracket so I’m not hating on them or you Bradley.

Vols85

March 25th, 2012
11:59 am

Northern Neighbor, either you really don’t get it or you have your head buried in the sand. Yeah, Cal might have skipped town before the NCAA visited first, Amherst, and later, Memphis, and he can certainly “lure” the best talent to play at a school that places such an emphasis on hoops. But if you truly think that he knew nothing, absolutely nothing about what went on at his previous two stops then you’re just fooling yourself. Where there’s smoke, there’s fire. UK has proven it can win with men of integrity leading the team (Tubby & Pitino). I just don’t know why the passion is so high that they would risk another trip down Eddie Sutton Lane. As for your greetings to Kiffin & Pearl, it might interest you to know that the NCAA found that Kiffin did not commit any major violations during his one year at UT and that neither he nor the University were sanctioned by the NCAA. As for Coach Pearl, unfortunately he dug his own grave. I loved watching him resurrect and coach the basketball program, but as the Saints’ brass found out, it’s the lies and cover ups that will do the most harm. Still, a show-cause penalty with school imposed recruiting restrictions will always beat UK’s defacto death penalty of 1952, the almost death penalty of 1989, and what lies ahead thanks to Cal. Good luck, btw, the rest of the tourney. As I said earlier, unless an opponent plays a perfect game (and then some) or Cal interferes, UK should be hoisting another banner at Rupp.

JackB

March 25th, 2012
1:53 pm

Wow – some people can’t comment on the article – they just have to make ignorant statements. You people said UK would be on probation by Cal’s second or third year. Well – it is here and nothing. Why? Because UK tries to follow the rules as well as everyone else, and Cal has never been found to cheat. A player had an issue from taking a test in high school. Another player took money from an agent after his junior year began, and the NCAA gave credit to Cal helping them prove the case. Then they stripped his team of its season. But don’t let facts get in the way. Just say Cal is cheater even if he had nothing to do with either infraction, and say stuff about smoke and fire and be smug in your ignorance of details.

That UT and IU fans would be among those throwing stones is really funny.

This UK team has a lot of really good kids. It is always tough being the favorite. The favorite loses the NCAA tourney to the field more times than not. Lots of GREAT teams fell before the finals. An undefeated IU team got beat by UK. A super tough Georgetown team lost to a perfect game by Villanova. A great Houston team lost after an airball was dunked home. A super UNC team with Jordon and Perkins lost in the tourney. Gloat all you want if UK loses, and they might, but they are a special group and a special team. Bradley’s article about UK’s team was earned and excellent.

louisville slugger

March 25th, 2012
5:33 pm

MB, you need to get back up to the Bluegrass this week…. ain’t no work gonna get done around here with the UK/U of L trash talking going on!

Sokak

March 25th, 2012
7:22 pm

GT,what acc team is in the Final Four?