It was all Hoosiers for the full 90 minutes Sunday afternoon as they dominated the University of Kentucky 3-0 to cruise to the third round of the NCAA Tournament.
Backed by IU freshman forward Victor Bezerra’s hat trick and another strong match from IU’s backline, Kentucky seemingly had no answer for IU’s offensive onslaught all day.
After playing to a scoreless draw during the regular season, the second round of the NCAA Tournament figured to be every bit as competitive and tense as the first meeting. This time around, IU benefitted from a full seven days of rest and took total control of a depleted Kentucky team.
The Hoosiers’ tempo was unrelenting all afternoon as they rattled off six shots in the first half, forcing Wildcats goalkeeper Enrique Facusse to save three of them, before pouring on six more shot attempts in the second half.
The opening minutes of action saw IU assert its usual slow, methodical approach in order to settle in and get a feel for Kentucky’s play style.
After a shot-less 20 minutes to begin the match, Bezerra wasted no time getting the Hoosiers on the board first with a strike from 15 yards out. A well-executed set piece initiated by IU senior defender Simon Waever and IU junior defender A.J. Palazzolo allowed Bezerra to find open space in the center of the box and drill home the early lead.
The Hoosers’ leading goal-scorer wasn’t done leaving his mark on the match as he notched his second goal of the match less than 10 minutes later in the 30th minute. Another well-timed collection of passes from Waever and IU freshman midfielder Aidan Morris set Bezerra up near the right goal post where he finished the job on a chip in.
For good measure, Bezerra broke the game wide open in the 63rd minute as he fired an improbable shot from 22 yards out that snuck its way over the head of Facusse and into the back of the net. The hat trick became the first for IU since 2016 when Tanner Thompson did so against Saint Louis University and the first in an NCAA Tournament match for IU since 2012.
The Hoosier backline didn’t allow the Wildcats to get off their first shot until the 37th minute. Even when Kentucky did start to find some success with the ball, IU limited the team to just four shots on net.
The continuing emergence of IU freshman goalkeeper Roman Celentano inside the goal box also played an instrumental role for the Hoosiers. Not only did Celentano turn away all four shots faced, he showed calmness, poise and a bit of luck.
Perhaps the biggest break in the game for IU came in the 42nd minute when Kentucky forward Robert Screen put a shot on net that ricocheted off the right goal post, off of Celentano’s leg, then back onto the field.
Kentucky didn’t catch nearly as many breaks as IU as it lost arguably its best player in 6-foot-6-inch defender in Aime Mabika. The loss of Mabika, who was recently crowned the Conference USA Player of the Year, made for a noticeable hole in the Wildcats backline and contributed to the team's overall disjointedness.
IU was more than happy to jump all over Kentucky’s deficiencies, and it showed in a near-flawless team effort.
Performances such as Sunday won’t be easy to come by as IU heads into the thick of the NCAA Tournament, but if it can continue its cohesiveness while remaining relatively healthy, there’s no telling how far IU can make it in the NCAA Tournament.
With the victory, the Hoosiers will play the winner of 12-seeded Saint Mary’s College of California and the University of California, Santa Barbara, next Sunday at Jerry Yeagley Field.
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