Kentucky's win over Indiana on Saturday exacted a margin of revenge for a handful of Wildcats. Last year, IU pounded the listless Cats, 70-51, in Assembly Hall.
Cat fans will remember that Hoosier guard Jordan Crawford outscored brother Joe, 20-10. UK was in the midst of coach Billy Gillispie's rookie season at Kentucky and the Cats still were painfully trying to find their way.
What a difference a year makes.
This year's players in those candy-striped warmups aren't your father's Indiana team. IU coach Kelvin Sampson has been banished to the NBA, where now he's an assistant with the Bucks, having run afoul of the NCAA for a second time. In the wake of the investigation, only Kyle Taber suited up for the Hoosiers in both games. Everyone else has graduated, transferred or been asked to leave.
There have been some great games in the annual Kentucky-Indiana basketball rivalry. All-Americans have dotted the Wildcats' and Hoosiers' rosters. Most years, the game never lacked for drama. But Tom Crean's first IU team is one of the worst in Indiana history.
Recalling UK's brush with the NCAA in the late 80s, friend and colleague Dick Gabriel noted that Rick Pitino's first Wildcat team, which featured Reggie Hanson as its tallest player, and finished the year 14-14, probably would have beaten this Indiana team by double-digits.
Starting three freshman, Indiana somehow has managed to win half of its first 10 games. I'd say it's a credit to Crean and his coaching abilities, and to the pride of the players who pull on the Crimson and Cream jerseys.
Cats start fast
Finally. That's what Billy Gillispie had to be saying after the first television timeout on Saturday. At that point, the Cats had out hustled the Hoosiers to a 10-0 lead.
The first half of Saturday's game gave Wildcat fans a glimpse of the potential of this UK team. In Indiana's first 14 possessions, the Cats forced seven turnovers -- four of those were steals -- and four missed field goals. Tom Pritchard scored IU's first points of the game at 13:25, but not before Perry Stevenson had swatted away two Hoosier attempts. Indiana trailed 19-2.
During that stretch, the Cats were white-hot, hitting on 9 of their first 10 shots.
Billy Gillispie saluted his team's defensive efforts. "It was great to watch us play defense for a long time in the first half. That's about as good as it gets," Gillispie said. "I'm not a bragging-type guy at all, but that's about as good as it gets. Helping your teammates, being there, rebounding the ball. We just have to do a much better job offensively, converting the turnovers, converting the defensive stops into baskets. But I couldn't be more happy about the win."
Gillispie again said this group of Wildcats could end up being one of his best defensive teams.
From my vantage point during the games, which is along the baseline nearest the visitor's bench, I have a good view and am within earshot of the opposing coach and players. I can tell you that Indiana coach Tom Crean is among the hardest workers I've seen.
Even as his team was falling behind by 26, I was struck by Crean's intensity, if not patience. Crean paced the sidelines the entire game, never sitting down and never losing sight of his team's lack of talent. Crean constantly barked instructions to his squad, sprinkled with encouragement, at times pleading for his team to play with courage (his words, not mine).
Word out of the UK camp, prior to Saturday's game with Indiana, was that Billy Gillispie had made the decision to start DeAndre Liggins against the Hoosiers.
Liggins, who has played increasingly well since refusing to enter UK's game with Kansas State in Las Vegas, arrived late to Rupp Arena on Saturday. The Wildcats already were on the floor warming up when Liggins walked in from the parking lot.
Kevin Galloway, instead, got the call and was inserted into the starting lineup. Liggins entered the game at 13:11 in the first half.
Liggins finished with 10 points, but turned it over 6 times.
After watching his Wildcats dispose of Indiana, Billy Gillispie boarded a private jet, flew to Bowling Green on Saturday night, to watch UK signee Jon Hood play.
Hood scored 27 points, grabbed nine rebounds, had three blocks and three steals in Madisonville North Hopkins' loss to Centennial (Franklin, Tenn.), 69-66.
Hood had a chance to win the game, but was called for a charge with 4.5 seconds remaining.
Those are the highlights... Stay tuned.