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NCAA Tournament: Kentucky, Indiana share mutual respect going into high stakes showdown

By Keith Taylor
KyForward senior sports writer

DES MOINES — The Kentucky-Indiana rivalry isn’t deep, but is full of history.

Although the today’s generation of Wildcats know very little about the past history between the two teams, freshman guard Isaiah Briscoe knows enough about the Hoosiers to respect the team’s tradition.

Kentucky's Alex Poythress goes up for a shot in a win over Stony Brook earlier this week (Victoria Graff Photo)

Kentucky’s Alex Poythress goes up for a shot in a win over Stony Brook earlier this week (Victoria Graff Photo)

“As a basketball player, you have to always respect the other opponents and respect the game of basketball in general,” he said Friday. “I have a lot of respect for Indiana and I hope they have a lot of respect for us. (On Saturday), we will go out and play, give it our all and (try to) come out with a (win).”

The rivals played on a regular basis from 1970-2012 until the two programs pulled the plug on the series because of scheduling conflicts. In the last meeting between the border neighbors, Kentucky defeated the Hoosiers 102-90 at the Georgia Dome in the NCAA Tournament. Earlier that season, Indiana stunned the Wildcats 73-72 on a 3-pointer at the buzzer at Assembly Hall.

Hoosiers coach Tom Crean said the stunner in Bloomington gave Indiana the boost it needed at the time.

“It was such a dramatic shot at a time when our program needed a real shot in the arm,” Crean said. “That’s exactly what that shot provided.”

Since then, the two teams have gone their separate ways. Kentucky won a national championship and has made three Final Four appearance in the past four years. The Hoosiers haven’t had as much success, but appear to be on their way back to the forefront of college basketball after winning the Big Ten regular-season title for the first time in three years this season.

The stakes will be high when the two tradition-rich programs renew their rivalry and meet in the second round of the NCAA Tournament today at Wells Fargo Arena. The Hoosiers will be looking to regain notoriety in the Big Dance, while the Wildcats are seeking a return to the regional semifinals for the third year in a row and continue their postseason run.

Kentucky coach John Calipari called the Hoosiers one of the “blue bloods” of college basketball and is expecting a challenge similar to the last two games when the rivalry renews on the big stage.

“It’s a hard game to prepare for, but to be honest, I’m really concerned about my team and what we have to do to be able to play in a game like this,” Calipari said.

Kentucky (27-8) takes a six-game winning streak into the contest, while Indiana (26-7) has won seven of its past eight games, including a 99-74 win over Chattanooga Thursday night. The Wildcats defeated Stony Brook 85-57 to open the second leg of the postseason.

Finally healthy, Calipari likes the way his team is playing going into the contest and said both programs have settled into a pattern of consistency.

“This team right now has settled into in on how they have to play, and so has Indiana and how they have to play to win, what I look like when I’m at my best, what we look like when we’re at our best,” Calipari said. “Let’s play with great energy and go have a ball.”

The latest installment of the rivalry will feature a showdown between Kentucky point guard Tyler Ulis and Indiana’s Yogi Ferrell, two of the top point guards in the East Region.

Both players agreed the contest isn’t a one-on-one showdown. Ferrell said he doesn’t “get too hyped in the matchup” and Ulis agreed with his counterpart.

“We’ve got to prepare as a team,” Ulis said.

Even though the coaches and players of both schools have attempted to downplay the rivalry aspect of the contest, Calipari knows it’s meaningful to followers of both programs.

“With us and Indiana being fairly close, you know, it’s that kind of game,” the Kentucky coach said. “It will be. The fans on both sides will be into it and it should be good.”

Game tracker: Kentucky vs. Indiana, 5:15 p.m. TV/Radio: CBS (Channel 27), 98.1 FM WBUL.

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

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