CRAWFORD | Rivalry? What rivalry? IU and UK players don't care about the past before NCAA showdown
The Indiana-Kentucky rivalry may be a fever-pitch affair for its fans, but for the players, it's a non-factor. Many don't even know about it.
DES MOINES, Iowa (WDRB) — Rivalry? Forget about it. The University of Kentucky players sure have, and many from Indiana University, too.
When the teams meet Saturday at 5:15 p.m. in the NCAA’s Round of 32, their fans will be at white-knuckle level 10 not just because a berth in the Sweet 16 is on the line, but because they want to beat THOSE guys.
Indianapolis radio host and former IU player and coach Dan Dakich pledged that if Indiana beats Kentucky, he’ll travel south of the Ohio River to, ah, exercise his bowels.
Kentucky Sports Radio host Matt Jones has taken great delight in Indiana’s Sweet 16 rings and celebration of Christian Watford’s buzzer beater in December of 2011. “Every place in Indiana has a picture of the Christian Watford shot hanging up next to Jesus,” Jones said on his post-game show in the wee hours of Friday morning.
For most of us, this meeting of blue-blood rivals is first-rate theater.
But for the players? Not so much. I mean, when Watford made that shot to beat Kentucky, Snapchat was barely three months old. It’s, like, prehistoric or something.
Asking these guys about the rivalry is a lot like asking them about the Louisiana purchase. What, you mean Ben Simmons got paid?
“We don't know anything about it really,” Kentucky guard Tyler Ulis said of the rivalry. “We haven't played them. The only rival we know is Louisville."
Jamal Murray? “You know growing up I didn’t watch a lot of basketball, so I didn’t know about the rivalry and stuff. But being part of it now and playing against Louisville gives me a feel for how the environment is going to be and how hard teams come at us. I know we’ve got to be ready. We can’t come in lax and casual.”
The asked Derek Willis if he remembered Bob Knight. He replied: “Was he the guy who threw the chair? Right? That’s about all I can associate with him. I don’t know.”
On the Indiana side, everybody knows about “Wat’s shot.” But try to go much deeper and you hit a brick wall.
James Blackmon Jr. is an exception. His father played for the Wildcats. He grew up a Kentucky fan. He won’t get to play Saturday because of injury, but he knows about the emotion.
“The game was always big,” he said. “It will probably always be big in the eyes of the fans.”
Yogi Ferrell says it’s a big game for the Hoosiers not because of the rivalry, but because of what’s at stake in the NCAA Tournament, and because they respect the Wildcats.
“We have a lot of respect for them, their level of play, what their program has accomplished the last few years,” he said. “We know they’re going to play well. So, you now, we’re not going to get into rivalries so much. This is just us versus them right now.”
Colin Hartman has a bit of a different perspective.
“Growing up in Indiana you’ve obviously watched the games, every, single time they’ve played,” he said. “But they’re always highly talented and highly athletic and get out and run and block shots and score at a high rate. We just have to prepare the way we always have and come out with our own mindset.”
There is one view of the rivalry in which the teams differ dramatically. Ask UK’s players what they know about Indiana and you get blank stares.
“We haven’t watched them, so I really don’t know anything about them,” Ulis said.
That’s not unusual for a Calipari-coached team. He likes for his teams to focus on themselves and what they do well, instead of worrying too much about the opponent. It’s a formula that has worked for him.
Indiana’s players, meanwhile, know what Kentucky does well. They’re aware of Kentucky’s 15 blocked shots against Stony Brook, and about the Wildcats’ late-season resurgence.
“We have to move the ball,” Ferrell said. “That’ll be the key to everything for us offensively.”
And the rivalry? These players will leave it to be hashed out among fans and on the talk radio airwaves. When it comes to the history of this series, they simply have no idea.
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