LEXINGTON – My heart goes out to the Kentucky Wildcats for having to lie in public the next four days about the meaning of Friday night's grudge match with the Indiana Hoosiers in the South Region semifinals of the NCAA men's basketball tournament in Atlanta.
We all should understand that no one on the Kentucky side can come out and admit just how badly they would like to blow the Hoosiers off the face of the Earth.
And you can't blame Kentucky, though you can't blame Indiana, either. The Hoosiers didn't do anything wrong in breaking Kentucky's heart, 73-72, on a last-second 3-pointer Dec. 10, in Bloomington. In fact, the Hoosiers did plenty right.
Still, it all had to sting like a hornet's nest for the Wildcats, who played arguably their worst game of the season – still almost won the game, in fact – despite rare foul trouble to Anthony Davis and a figurative no-show from Terrence Jones for reasons that have never been explained.
And the Wildcats had to escape with their lives through the rush of IU fans as the locals stormed the court after that game. I know of at least a couple friends in the media that day who literally feared for their lives in the onslaught of joy at Indiana. So you can imagine what it must have been like for the UK players to get to the locker room.
And you can imagine how especially painful it must have been for UK freshman point guard Marquis Teague, who's from Indianapolis, and no doubt heard more verbal abuse from our beloved IU fans after that one than any of his teammates.
So it was poor Teague who was asked first about the Indiana game, just minutes after the top-seeded, 34-2, Wildcats throttled Iowa State, 87-71, Saturday night at Louisville's KFC Yum! Center.
"That was a rough day for us," Teague said. "We hate to lose any game, but the way we lost, that just made it worse. Like I said, we've had to move on past that day. So I guess (I guess?) we got them again. We're just going out and play our hardest (I'll bet). We're really not saying anything about revenge (not true!) or anything like that. We're just going to come out and play like we would any other game (not true!!!!)."
Therein lies the rub. The Wildcats do, in fact, need to harness that intense revenge motive. Games tend to be called a lot tighter in the NCAA Tournament, and Kentucky doesn't need to come out and pick up a lot of ticky tack fouls early, by being too aggressive.
It won't be necessary for the Wildcats to be overly hyped. I believe that if Kentucky plays even an average game against the fourth-seeded, 27-8 Hoosiers, the Wildcats will win by 10. If they play as well as they did against Iowa State, the margin will be 15 to 20.
The Wildcats can only lose this game if they beat themselves, as they did Dec. 10 in Bloomington. And then they would play either third-seeded Baylor or No. 10 seed Xavier (the fighting Muskies) in Sunday's regional final, with a berth in the Final Four on the line.
Good job Louisville
I thought the city of Louisville, the University of Louisville and everyone around the Yum! Center did a fabulous job hosting second and third round games in the NCAA Tournament this past Thursday and Saturday.
I've been to a slew of NCAA Tournament sites (thanks to Kentucky's consistent success) in some seven or eight years covering the tournament and I've never had a better experience than this past weekend in Louisville.
When you consider all the logistics involved in putting on an event like this (the attention to detail by everyone involved is mind blowing) and you consider the kindness and common sense of the organizers and service people, Louisville's performance was A+.
Media people can whine with the best of them, surprise, surprise, but I didn't hear any of my peers with any complaints about this one.
And, on a more personal note, this was my first trip to the Yum! Center and I was blown away by the facility, even though numerous people had told me how great it was. I respect that it's a great place to watch basketball.
It's a venue that an NBA team would be proud to call home.
It also made me, as a UK fan, hope that the desired renovation of Rupp Arena comes to fruition in my lifetime. My impression is that UK and Lexington officials plan to all but blow up Rupp and rebuild, more or less, creating all chair back seating, and numerous other improvements all over the facility. And the hope is they do a LOT to improve the amenities offered to UK fans as well.
Would french-fries be too much to ask?
Odds and ends about the Kentucky Wildcats: Teague's 24 points against Iowa State ties him for fourth most among UK freshmen in an NCAA Tournament game...Davis is now fourth on the NCAA all-time freshman blocked shot list with 166. Davis recorded his 18th double-double of the season against the Cyclones. It was his fifth in the past six games and eighth in the last 10 games...Doron Lamb scored 16 points in the win, moving the sophomore guard within 49 points of 1,000 career points at UK. His five 3-pointers Saturday tied him for fifth most 3s in an NCAA Tournament game for Kentucky...Jones is 55th on UK's all-time scoring list with 1,025 points...senior Darius Miller scored 19 points vs. ISU, pushing his UK career total to 1,203 points, placing him 41st on the school's all time scoring list.