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Kidd-Gilchrist and Kentucky too much for Indiana

By Shannon Ryan, Chicago Tribune –

ATLANTA — The sequel will top the original.

At least in the minds of Kentucky fans.

(PHOTO: Kentucky Wildcats guard Darius Miller (1) goes in over Indiana Hoosiers forward Christian Watford (2), for two of his 19 points, during the NCAA South Regional semifinals at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, Georgia, Friday, March 23, 2012. Kenucky defeated Indiana, 102-90.)

In a rematch of a game that has been scripted into Indiana basketball lore when the Hoosiers upset the No. 1 Wildcats at Assembly Hall in December, the followup was revenge with higher stakes for Kentucky, which earned a trip to the Elite Eight with Friday night’s 102-90 victory over the fourth-seeded Hoosiers.

Kentucky is aiming at back-to-back Final Four appearances, hoping for an NCAA tournament championship with its all-star cast. The Wildcats will have to get past Baylor, which beat Xavier earlier in the night, on Sunday to do so.

Unlike the Dec. 10 upset by Indiana, this time a buzzer-beater wasn’t necessary for either team.

After a first-half volley, Kentucky took control only to hold off a final Indiana charge near the end.

“The Indiana mighty men, they gave it their all,” Indiana coach Tom Crean said. “They left it all on the court.”

The Hoosiers had come back from a nine-point first half deficit to take a lead and in the second half trailed only 82-77 with 5 minutes, 14 seconds remaining after falling behind by 13 points. But the Wildcats made their foul shots to secure the victory and ignite some celebrating among the thousands of Kentucky fans who had invaded Atlanta.

“We were playing uphill from there,” Crean said, “but it was never out of reach.”

While the headliners were the freshmen post players — Indiana’s Cody Zeller and Kentucky’s Anthony Davis — it was their teammates who made the biggest plays Friday night.

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist led the Wildcats with 24 points and 10 rebounds while Doron Lamb added 21 points.

Indiana’s Christian Watford, who hit the game-winning 3-pointer to beat Kentucky the first time around, scored a game-high 27 points, including 17 in the first half.

Indiana’s biggest problem was the free throw differential. The Wildcats made 35 of 37 while the Hoosiers hit 13 of 17.

The nation’s best player had sat with his lanky arms folded onto his long legs on a sideline for all but six minutes in the first half. After picking up two early fouls, Kentucky center and national player of the year winner Davis sat the final 14 minutes as Indiana overcame a nine-point deficit for a first-half lead. This was an early case of deja vu couldn’t have thrilled Kentucky fans.

He was saddled with four fouls when the teams met in December, his only game where he experienced significant foul trouble, and scored only six points. He scored nine with 12 rebounds Friday night but other teammates came to the rescue.

Zeller had a strong outing against Davis, scoring 20 points.

In the regular-season game, the Hoosiers won 73-72 on a buzzer-beating 3-pointer by Watford, marking a dramatic return from the depths that Indiana had been dwelling since former coach Kelvin Sampson left the program in shambles.

Indiana’s run to the Sweet 16, its first since 2002, was another milestone on how far the Hoosiers have come since Crean took over four seasons ago.

The future is bright for Indiana once again, but the immediate future of Kentucky basketball is on center stage because the Wildcats won the one that really mattered.

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