Following IU’s 90-73 loss to Kentucky, another reporter and I engaged in a brief conversation about what had just taken place.
“They just came in and dominated,” the reporter said.
We weren’t talking about the game – and no, Allen Iverson fans, not practice either – but rather a scene in the press room.
Before the game, the members of the IU Media got situated at their desks and grabbed some food, while the out-of-town guests took a while to get comfortable.
Following the game, however, members of the Kentucky media occupied virtually every seat within the first few rows of the room as if they owned the place.
Quite frankly, that’s what Kentucky did to Tom Crean’s Hoosiers during Saturday’s game at Assembly Hall. The Wildcats came in a bit timid and got pushed around early, but by the end of the game they had nearly run IU out of its own building.
Heading into halftime, the Hoosiers had shot 63 percent from the floor, dished out 11 assists, committed just four turnovers and were within a single point of the nation’s No. 4 team. But Kentucky extended the lead to 12 within the first five minutes of the second half, and IU never caught up.
The Wildcats obliterated the Hoosiers on the glass 49-24, including 21 offensive rebounds with 30 second-chance points. That seemed to be the story of the game Saturday, one day after Crean called his team’s margin for error “very, very small.”
In the second half especially, it was as if Kentucky was hitting “copy-paste” repeatedly on a computer. Offensive rebound, layup. Offensive rebound, layup. Offensive rebound, layup.
Kentucky junior Patrick Patterson had eight offensive boards alone. IU’s leading rebounder, freshman forward Derek Elston, had only six total rebounds. No other Hoosier had more than three.
The Wildcats also collected 28 defensive rebounds, including seven from star freshman guard John Wall. The three members of IU’s starting backcourt, meanwhile, grabbed a combined four.
“When you’re playing against a team that has the size and strength of Kentucky – which is a rarity – you’ve got to do a much better job of keeping them off the glass, and your guards have got to come in and get the rebounds,” Crean said. “We did not do a very good job of that.”
The Hoosiers slowed down Wall scoring-wise, limiting him to a season low of 11 points, but that only left the door open for other Wildcats to step in and take the reins.
Kentucky freshman guard Eric Bledsoe went for 23 points, despite averaging fewer than 10 points per game. Patterson had 19, while 6-foot-11 freshman DeMarcus Cousins chipped in 14 of his own.
After the game, IU freshman guard Jordan Hulls spoke about not executing offensively, while Crean talked about the team’s defensive shortcomings. But at the end of the day, IU stood little chance in this one.
The team played its best half of basketball since the (gasp) Kelvin Sampson days, but even then the Hoosiers were unable to muster a first-half lead.
“(IU) shot, in the first half, 63 percent (from the field) and 62 percent from the three and 100 percent from the foul line, and we’re up one,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said. “Well, guess what? We played well, too.”
No, that wasn’t a shot at the Hoosiers. Instead, it was the Kentucky coach feeling good about his own team’s effort despite what IU accomplished in the first half.
Kentucky won some ugly games early this season, but IU saw the best Kentucky has to offer.
“I just want to tell the people of Indiana that we’re not better than that,” Calipari said. “That’s a February effort.”
Even if for a half, the Hoosiers proved they can compete with a top-five team at their best.
So while the team needs to put together great first- and second-half efforts to compete against top Big Ten teams, it won’t be facing another opponent as challenging as Kentucky.
While the Hoosiers were disappointed with the outcome of the game, the team has to move on and worry about what’s ahead. IU’s next three opponents have a combined 6-22 record, a chance for three confidence-building victories.
But right now, it’s time for the Hoosiers to hit the books.