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Top-seeded Kentucky a shot-blocking challenge for Indiana

By Pete DiPrimio, The News-Sentinel (Fort Wayne, Ind.) –

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — The odds makers do not pick Indiana, but they do not know what the Hoosiers do — that in this resurrection season, picking against them just fuels their fire.

Will that be enough in Friday night’s rematch with top-seeded Kentucky, with a possible game against the winner between third-seeded Baylor (29-7) and 10th-seeded Xavier (23-12) on Sunday?

Perhaps.

“We don’t want to stop playing,” forward Derek Elston says. “We’re planning on two wins — Friday and Sunday. We’re planning on getting to the Final Four. We want to win both games. We’re going to lay it on the line.”

Kentucky is listed as a nine-point favorite in this South Regional Sweet Sixteen matchup in Atlanta. That reflects its 34-2 record and future-pros-loaded lineup. In this view, the Wildcats’ December 73-72 loss at Indiana is more motivation than indication.

No matter, Elston says. No one expected the fourth-seeded Hoosiers (27-8) to make a 15-win turnaround and return to the Sweet Sixteen level for the first time since 2002.

Check that. The Hoosiers did, Elston adds.

“It’s very exciting to know we just didn’t make it into the tournament, sign a couple of autographs and leave. We wanted to get our foot in the door and stay a while. We’ve got a group that has done that.”

What they’ve done is earn a shot at college basketball’s most fearsome shot blocker. Freshman Anthony Davis, a 6-10, 220-pound national player of the year winner, roams all over the court blocking shots. His 166 blocks lead the nation, and while he’s unlikely to break the national record of 207, set in 1986 by Navy’s David Robinson, that doesn’t make IU’s job any easier.

“The numbers he puts up are amazing,” Elston says, “but it’s nothing to get worried about or anxious about.”

So how do you beat a shot blocker of this magnitude?

“You just go to the hole as strong as you can,” Elston said. “They’ve got to call something. That’s our mindset. Go as strong as we can and finish. You can’t stop the guy from getting blocks, but he can’t block everything.

“If you just lay something up there, he’s going to beat it. We’re going to attack the rim as strong as we possibly can.”

Added guard Victor Oladipo: “You’ve always got to have it in the back of your mind that he’s there. You can’t ever go up soft. If you do, he’ll block it. You have to finish strong. If you do that, you can be successful.”

In the first meeting the Hoosiers were very successful, in part because foul trouble limited Davis to 24 minutes. He only had one block.

Can IU get him in foul trouble again? A lot depends on forward Cody Zeller, who likely will be matched up with Davis.

“He plays smart,” Zeller said. “He blocks a lot of shots, but he stays out of foul trouble. That’s a credit to him. Our key is to take it at him.

“It’s a little bit different whether you’re going against a bigger guy or a shot blocker. With a shot blocker you have to be really aware of when you’re making your move. You have to be somewhat aggressive, but you have to mix it up and keep him off guard.”

Davis has basically stayed out of foul trouble since getting four against Indiana. That’s a big reason why the Wildcats (34-2) have emerged as the national champion favorite.

“When we drive, whatever we can do to get him off his feet, get some silly fouls on him, we’ll try to do,” Elston says. “Whatever the game gives us, we’re going to try to run with it.

“Having him out of the game opens up the court for us. We know that team hasn’t played without him much. He’s been in most of the games the entire time. Getting him out of the game and seeing how they play without him will be huge.”

Huge, but not unique, Zeller adds.

“It’s not going to be any different game plan that what we have had. You try to get their best players in foul trouble.”

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