By John Clay, McClatchy Newspapers –
LOUISVILLE, Ky. — In Kentucky’s eyes, now it gets to right the wrong.
And the wrong isn’t a last-second shot that happened 20 years ago, even if that historic Duke buzzer-beater is played incessantly in commercials and retrospectives and written about in books.
That’s the wrong Christian.
No, the shot these current Cats wish to avenge was the heart-stopper taken by Indiana’s Christian Watford in Bloomington on Dec. 10 that gave the Hoosiers a one-point win over Kentucky.
Twenty-four games would pass before UK would lose again.
And Indiana is the only team on the now 36-game schedule Kentucky hasn’t beaten.
Now, in an NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 game in Atlanta on Friday night, the Cats will get their chance, meeting Indiana in a South Region semifinals.
IU got there with a stirring, 63-61 comeback win over Virginia Commonwealth way out in Portland, Ore., on Saturday. Kentucky punched its ticket with an emphatic 87-71 victory over Iowa State right in the Big Blue’s own backyard.
How bad did Kentucky want the rematch?
“Coach (John) Calipari told me after the game,” said Iowa State Coach Fred Hoiberg, “that was the best his team has played all year.”
“I said that’s about as good as we can play,” confirmed Calipari.
You could certainly make that case.
Iowa State left Marquis Teague open, so the freshman point guard responded with a career-high 24 points.
It’s Darius Miller’s last college run, so the senior came out emotionally charged and scored
19 points, grabbed six
rebounds and nailed a trio
Terrence Jones grabbed his lunch pail and made Iowa State’s Royce White work for his 23 points and nine rebounds.
Offensively, Kentucky made 55.4 percent of its shots overall, including 10 of 20 three-pointers.
Defensively, the Cats forced Iowa State, 10th in the nation in three-pointers, into missing 19 of 22 from long range.
The score was tied 42-42 with 16:28 to play. From there, the Cyclones were hit by a Big Blue Cyclone, outscored 45-29 the rest of the way.
It was Teague, remember, who missed the front end of a bonus situation in the final seconds that allowed Indiana to come down and hit the winning shot. It is Teague who is from Indianapolis.
“That was a rough day for us,” Teague said. “We hate to lose any game, but the way we lost that made it that much worse.
“But we had to move past that day. We’ve got them again, but we’re not talking about revenge or anything like that.”
Maybe, maybe not.
“We’re a different team now and so are they,” said Miller. “It’s going to be an exciting game.”
“We’re better than we were,” Calipari said, “but so is Indiana. Tommy (Crean) has done an unbelievable job.”
So unbelievable that to promote its March Madness coverage, ESPN kept showing the Watford shot as if on a non-stop loop, something the Cats admitted at regular season’s end they found terribly annoying.
See, the Christian Watford shot and the subsequent rushing of the floor by Indiana students and fans — not the Christian Laettner dagger 20 years ago — is what stuck in the craw of this Kentucky team.
“I hate that commercial. I hate that commercial,” said Michael Kidd-Gilchrist on Saturday night. “We’re going to get them back.”
Now’s the chance.
“We’re going to walk out of Lexington — where are we? — Louisville with our heads high,” said Hoiberg, with no doubt a nod to the Big Blue crowd at the KFC Yum Center.
But for Kentucky, it’s on to Catlanta, and a sweet chance to right a bitter wrong.