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Keith Taylor: A ‘great year’ comes to an end for Kentucky in loss to Indiana in NCAA tourney

DES MOINES — Tyler Ulis and Jamal Murray did all they could to keep Kentucky’s season from folding but it wasn’t enough to fend off Indiana.

The backcourt duo combined for 43 points but the Wildcats got little production from the rest of the roster in a 73-67 loss to the Hoosiers in the second round of the NCAA Tournament Saturday at Wells Fargo Arena.

 Kentucky's Alex Poythress and Dominique Hawkins battle for a rebound in a loss to Indiana Saturday in Des Moines, Iowa (UK Athletics Photo)

Kentucky’s Alex Poythress and Dominique Hawkins battle for a rebound in a loss to Indiana Saturday in Des Moines, Iowa (UK Athletics Photo)

As expected, the contest was close throughout between the two border rivals, featuring nine lead changes and six ties, but Indiana used a 12-2 run down the stretch to hold off the gritty Wildcats.

“We didn’t play our best, but maybe it’s because of them, we didn’t play our best,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said. “We missed a ton of open shots we normally don’t miss.”

Like his coach, senior Alex Poythress wasn’t happy with the outcome.

“I wish we could have gone out a different way,” said Poythress, who scored six points and grabbed six rebounds in his last game in a Kentucky uniform. “I felt like we had a team (good enough) to make a long push, a long run.”

BOXSCORE: Indiana 73, Kentucky 67

Although the loss was hard to swallow, Kentucky (27-9) finished the season by winning 11 of its final 14 games, including six of its last seven contests, but failed to reach the Final Four for the first time in three years. Despite falling short of making a return trip to the national semifinals, Ulis said the season was a success.

“It was a great year for us,” Ulis said. “I felt like we went through a lot of ups and downs. We had a lot of young players and guys learning how to play the right way. Everybody got better individually and today, we didn’t play our best as a team, but I feel like we had a good season up to now.”

In what could have been his final game in a Kentucky uniform, Ulis scored a game-high 27 points for the Wildcats, while Murray added 16. The Wildcats shot 42 percent from the field, but wasn’t accurate enough from long range to create spacing between the two border rivals.

Although Kentucky was on target from long range during the postseason, especially during the Southeastern Conference Tournament, the Wildcats misfired on most of their 3-point attempts against the Hoosiers.

“I am sick for my team,” Calipari said. “I’m sick for some individual players who didn’t perform well. I’m sick for Tyler and Jamal who had great years and you know, Isaiah (Briscoe). I feel so bad so bad, because (you want to keep winning). Could I have done something different? Is there something else I could have done to help them get over the hump? Is there some other way?”

Kentucky made just four shots from long range, with Ulis draining three of those, including two in the second half. Murray, in what also could have been his final game with the Wildcats, made just one shot behind the arc, putting more pressure on Kentucky’s frontcourt, which was non-existent.

Post players Marcus Lee, Alex Poythress and Skal Labissiere combined for 14 points in what turned out to be the season finale. In addition to the post problems, the Wildcats were called for six offensive fouls, committed 16 turnovers and got just seven points from the bench.

However, it wasn’t meant to be as the Hoosiers avenged a loss to the Wildcats in the 2012 NCAA Tournament and advanced to the Sweet 16 for the first time in three years.

“They played, they fought,” Calipari said. “They did what they had to hold on and win the game.”

It’s uncertain whether Ulis, Murray, Labissiere, Briscoe or even Lee will return next season. All four players were noncommittal about the future following the season-ending loss. Despite what the future holds, Calipari isn’t concerned, adding that he expects “a lot of guys” to declare for the NBA Draft.

“The big picture of this is we’re all right,” the Kentucky coach said. “I’m going to have a brand new team again next year.”

Keith Taylor is a columnist and senior sports writer who covers University of Kentucky athletics for KyForward.com

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