Rematch set for IU vs. UK in Sweet 16
When IU junior forward Christian Watford saw that the No. 4-seeded Hoosiers were in the same South Regional as No. 1-seeded Kentucky, he unknowingly predicted the future.
“Here we go again,” Watford said following Selection Sunday.
Watford’s famous buzzer-beater sank No. 1 Kentucky on Dec. 10, 2011, which permanently stamped his place in IU lore.
On Friday, the highly anticipated rematch will take place in the Sweet 16 when IU takes on Kentucky at about 9:45 p.m. at the Georgia Dome.
“When I said that, you don’t really figure that it’ll happen, but it’s here,” Watford said.
But things have changed since the night Bloomington went into a frenzy.
The Wildcats — who were playing in their first true road game — have since gone 8-0 in SEC road games. A lone loss to Vanderbilt in the SEC Championship is Kentucky’s only blemish since that first game.
IU Coach Tom Crean said Kentucky has learned to play an unselfish brand of basketball.
“That team really, really shares the basketball,” Crean said. “When you look at the talent on that team and the upside of that team and where some of those players are really just scratching the surface of where they’re going to be in basketball in their careers, and (Kentucky Coach John Calipari) has them moving the ball like that? That’s really, really strong.”
Kentucky’s floor general, freshman point guard Marquis Teague, has since come on after struggling to start the season.
Teague had 24 points and seven assists in UK’s 87-71 win against No. 9-seeded Iowa State in the round of 32.
The Pike (Indianapolis) High School product — who had 15 second-half points in the first meeting — also had a 2.33 assist/turnover ratio in March.
“If you let him get in the paint and make plays, he can do that with anybody in the country,” Crean said. “There’s no doubt about that.”
Teague has the luxury of dishing it to three teammates who ranked in the top 17 of ESPN.com Chad Ford’s Top 100 2012 NBA Draft prospects.
Crean said there’s no wiggle room going up against a team like Kentucky.
“This team is so talented,” Crean said. “Kentucky is so talented that if there was ever a time where the theme or theory was very little room for margin of error, it’s this one.”
But while the Wildcats made strides in the past three months, so have the Hoosiers.
IU got over the hump with its first conference road win in nearly two years.
The Hoosiers won six of their past seven Big Ten regular season games to go into the Big Ten and NCAA Tournaments.
Most recently, IU won two NCAA Tournament games to get to its first Sweet 16 in 10 years.
IU junior forward Derek Elston said the Hoosiers aren’t the same squad Kentucky saw more than three months ago.
“We know they’re going to be just as tough as they were, if not tougher,” Elston said. “But we’re a tougher team. As much as we’re going to have to play defense to stop them, they’re going to have to do the same thing.”
It’s two powerhouse programs.
IU and Kentucky combine for 12 National Championships, 22 Final Fours and 97 All-Americans.
It’s a border war that dates back to the days of former IU Coach Branch McCracken and former Kentucky Coach Adolph Rupp.
But Friday night, only one school will move on to the Elite 8 and get the chance to add to its trophy case.
IU junior guard Jordan Hulls said this is as good as it gets.
“It’s two great teams going at it in the Sweet 16,” Hulls said. “That’s what it’s all about.”
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