The Wildcats earned a measure of revenge for the regular season loss and advanced to play third-seeded Baylor in Sunday’s South region final at 2:20 p.m.
Kentucky, whose defense had been suffocating all season, showed that while it remains the favorite to win the national title, it could find itself in trouble if front-court stars encounter foul trouble again. On Friday, Kentucky standout Anthony Davis sat motionless on the bench for all but six minutes in the first half after picking up two early fouls, much like he did in the Dec. 10 loss.
But Indiana could not slow the Wildcats late in the second half, nor could the Hoosiers get enough open looks from three-point range — they made nine three-pointers in the regular season victory — to create much drama in the final seconds. And the Wildcats made 35 of 37 free throws in the game.
When Kentucky found itself in a tied game in the second round against Iowa State, the Wildcats went on a 20-2 run to seize control of the game. A similar run seemed to be coming Friday when Darius Miller made two early three-pointers in the second half.
But with Terrence Jones saddled with three fouls and Davis hoping to avoid a third of his own, Indiana kept attacking the basket and scoring in the paint. And every time the Wildcats appeared to put away the Hoosiers, Victor Oladipo, a DeMatha High graduate, scored on a hard drive to the basket or Cody Zeller scored a follow-up basket.
“The start of the second half gave them confidence, and it was an uphill climb from there. But it was never out of reach,” Indiana Coach Tom Crean said.
Since the first Indiana game, Davis had done a stellar job avoiding foul trouble. But on Friday he picked up two fouls in the game’s first six minutes, even sooner than he did in the Dec. 10 game. Fortunately for the Wildcats, Zeller picked up his second foul one minute later, which relegated him to the bench.
The Hoosiers, who made eight of their first 13 shots, remained in the game early largely because Christian Watford, who had buried the buzzer-beating three-pointer on Dec. 10, scored 17 points on 6-of-11 shooting from the field in the first half.
And still, the Wildcats appeared on the brink of pulling away. Midway through the half, Kentucky’s Miller scored a layup in transition and was fouled. His free throw gave the Wildcats a nine-point lead.
Soon after, Marquis Teague, a native of Indianapolis, fired an alley-oop pass high in the air for Jones to throw down a resounding dunk, giving legions of Wildcats fans a glimpse of their multitude of offensive weapons.
Crean could not wait too long before putting Zeller back on the floor. When he did, the Hoosiers immediately scored six straight points to whittle the deficit to three points.
After Michael Kidd-Gilchrist scored five straight points, Watford made another three-pointer to tie the score at 37 with five minutes to play in the half.
A layup by Watford gave the Hoosiers a two-point advantage, prompting an unhappy Coach John Calipari to call a timeout to find a way to slow the Hoosiers, who made 58.1 percent of their shots in the first half.