It's only a game in December, not all that important if you listen to Bob Knight, but there was the Indiana University basketball coach at midcourt hurling both fists skyward in celebration tonight after his undefeated Hoosiers handed No. 2-ranked Kentucky its first loss, 62-59.

Five times in the previous six renewals of this classic rivalry, Kentucky has won. So tonight's victory, made possible by a delay offense that killed three important minutes late in the game and confirmed with Ted Kitchel's four free throws in the last 46 seconds, gave Knight reason to be so cheery that he laughed with reporters afterward, saying, "I'm going on a hunting trip tomorrow morning. Going hunting in Kentucky."

Now 8-0, the fifth-ranked Hoosiers ended Kentucky's seven-game winning streak by rendering the Wildcats' bull's-eye shooters harmless. Shooting 61.1 percent for the season, Kentucky hit only 41.4 percent against the relentless Indiana man-to-man defense that limited the Wildcats' guards to four field goals in 18 tries.

Mel Turpin, Kentucky's 6-foot-11 center, led the losers with 17 points. Randy Wittman led Indiana with 17.

"December games are kind of fun," Knight said afterward, "because you can evalute where the hell you're going." By this, coaches usually mean they are experimenting with different lineups, different strategies. Tonight, Knight used only seven players, with the starters working 90 percent of the game. Where the Hoosiers are going, to judge by this game, is a long ways.

Still, Indiana's shooting wasn't much to brag about, (41.5 percent), as this was another in the series of Indiana-Kentucky games decided by defense. Over the last 8 1/2 minutes, Indiana didn't need a field goal. Its defense so smothered Kentucky's customary running game that the Wildcats, averaging 80 points, managed only one bucket the last 5 1/2 minutes.

Though the slower team, Indiana forced the issue offensively so well that it won by drawing Kentucky's aggressive defense into fouls. Indiana's last 13 points, breaking a 49-all tie, came on free throws--six by Kitchel, four by Steve Bouchie and three by Wittman.

Once ahead by seven points in the first half, 20-13, Indiana led at halftime, 32-27, but quickly fell behind by seven in the second half.

"It was a game of streaks," Knight said. "Our best play was when we were ahead, 20-13."

To combat Kentucky's quickness, Indiana did the one thing most necessary. It controlled its defensive board. Wittman, a 6-6 senior forward, had 11 rebounds the first half, 12 for the game.

"Kentucky is so big and so quick that if you let them get rebounds, they'll run you to death," Wittman said. "Steve Bouchie and Ted Kitchel blocked out well underneath, and I could leave my man (guard Jim Master) and go get the rebounds. We just wanted to eliminate the cheap baskets."

"The real turning point in the game was our shooting," said Kentucky Coach Joe B. Hall, who only reluctantly praised Indiana's defense. "It was the best defense we've played against, but we got a lot of good shots we just didn't hit."

Barely had the roaring sellout crowd of 17,424 settled down from the halftime intermission before Kentucky ripped off a 15-5 splurge that gave it a 44-37 lead with 13 minutes to play.

But Kentucky would get only four more field goals the next eight minutes, as the patient Indiana offense moved the ball flawlessly. Kentucky led, 53-52, on Charles Hurt's layup with 5:32 left. After that, it was all Indiana.

Bouchie's two free throws at 4:44 gave the Hoosiers the lead for good, 56-53. For nearly three minutes later, Indiana worked a delay that produced two more Bouchie free throws at 1:02 for a 58-55 lead.

Two debatable calls went against Kentucky in that time -- "I'll question those calls the rest of my life," Hall said -- and with four seconds to go, Kitchel's free throw ended it.