BOZICH | Battered, short-handed Indiana defends its way past Ken - WDRB 41 Louisville News

BOZICH | Battered, short-handed Indiana defends its way past Kentucky

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Yogi Ferrell and Tom Crean led Indiana past Kentucky Saturday. Yogi Ferrell and Tom Crean led Indiana past Kentucky Saturday.

DES MOINES, Iowa (WDRB) – It was time to start scribbling all the reasons why the Indiana University basketball team was about to disappear from the NCAA Tournament bracket against Kentucky.

I had my list:

Robert Johnson out with a re-injured left ankle after he made a pair of three-point shots. Juwan Morgan out after separating his left shoulder for the third time in a month. OG Anunoby to the bench, limping after scrambling for a rebound. They were all tucked on the bench next to James Blackmon, the team's second-leading scorer who has been missing since December.

John Calipari sent a Jordan Brand all-American into the game. Tom Crean summoned Ryan Burton, a walk-on transfer who did not average 10 points at Bellarmine.

The Hoosiers had coughed up every inch a six-point lead in the second half. In fact, Kentucky went from six points behind to one-point ahead in less than four minutes.

The Wildcats were primed to overwhelm Indiana with the trademark athleticism they had used to overwhelm their last six opponents. Tyler Ulis was playing his way into the middle of the NBA Draft. Jamal Murray was due to string together some three-point field goals.

Indiana was wobbling toward that moment when everybody starts to howl about Troy Williams’ turnovers, Nick Zeisloft’s streaky shooting, Tom Crean’s substitutions and everything else that keeps the vibe around the Hoosiers in a constant state of agitation.

Agitation dissolved into celebration.

Neither injuries nor 27 points from Ulis nor a slow start by Yogi Ferrell nor shaky three-point shooting could stop Indiana from defeating Kentucky, 73-67, in the second round of the East Regional of the NCAA Tournament at Wells Fargo Arena Saturday night.

“(Coach Crean) deserves all the credit,” said Zeisloft, Indiana’s senior guard. “He stuck with us when others didn’t. Maybe we were even doubting ourselves a little bit.”

“The moment is never too big for anybody,” IU forward Max Bielfeldt said. “Everybody is ready to check in and do something.”

“They’re in the Sweet 16 and playing as well as anybody,” said Kentucky coach John Calipari.

Credit Crean.

He knew what this game meant. It wasn’t as dramatic as the IU victory over UK on the Christian Watford buzzer beater in Dec. 2011. But it was more significant. It was Indiana’s first victory over Kentucky in the NCAA Tournament since 1973.

Zeisloft said that Crean told the players after the game that they’ll be remembered forever as a group of guys who defeated the Wildcats.

"Coach Crean and (assistant coach Tim) Buckley told us after the game, it's Kentucky-Indiana," Zeisloft said. "We really tried not to get too much into the hype of it but now that we've played in it we understand the significance of what we did."

I’ll say it again because too many people refuse to budge on this topic: Credit Crean.

He coached an excellent game. On at least three occasions, he set up out of bounds plays during timeouts that led to Indiana baskets.

He took the defensive game plan developed by assistant coach Chuck Martin and turned his 6-foot-8 beast (Anunoby) loose on Murray, the nation’s best three-point shooter.

Defense won. Anunoby won.

“When he gets his defense going, he’s one of a kind,” Bielfeldt said. “I’ll go one on one with him in practice and you’ll think you have something, you’ll think you faked him or whatever. He has that ability to get a hand on everything. He’s just so long and athletic. He’s tough to score on.”

Ask Murray.

Murray missed eight of nine attempts from distance. It was his worst three-point shooting game since Nov. 14, UK's second-game of the season. Anunoby blocked two of them. His relentless presence seemed to spread across the perimeter, his wingspan stretching from Cedar Rapids to Waterloo

Think about this: Duke scored more than 1.5 points per possession when the Blue Devils embarrassed the Hoosiers in a 20-point victory on Dec. 2. Indiana’s defensive efficiency rating was easily the worst in the Big Ten.

Kentucky started this game ranked first in the nation in offensive efficiency. The Wildcats are not first any more. Not after Crean’s defense limited the Wildcats to 0.94 points per possession, their second-least efficient performance all season.

The Wildcats struggled to make 42 percent of their attempts. They hit four of 16 shots from distance. They turned the ball over 16 times, three more than Indiana, a team that has been ridiculed for its propensity to throw the ball away.

“Our mindset really changed,” said Burton, who gave Indiana one rebound and five minutes of superb defense. “After that Duke loss we came back and we just worked every day.

“Stops and rebounds. That’s what we hang our hats on now. You’ve got to finish the possession every time.”

The Hoosiers finished their possessions and the game. Breaking a tie at 50, Indiana outscored the Wildcats 23-17 over the final 7:32.

Thomas Bryant, Indiana’s mammoth center, overwhelmed Kentucky’s inside trio of Skal Labissiere, Marcus Lee and Alex Poythress. He scored 15 of Indiana’s final 23 points. Calipari’s only chance to slow him was to summon Karl-Anthony Towns onto the floor from his seat in the first row behind the UK bench. Bryant outscored UK's inside trio by five points.

"I spent a lot of time recruiting him," Calipari said. "He was right down the street from us (at Huntington Prep) and the biggest thing I want to tell you is his family should be proud of how much better he's gotten. The biggest thing I want to tell you and his family is how much better he's gotten.

"Tom and the staff have gotten a kid I really liked. I though he was really good. I'm going to be honest, I didn't realize he was that good."

Imagine Indiana winning a game when the Hoosiers made only six three-points and the contributions of Yogi Ferrell were buried this deeply in the story. Ferrell did what Ferrell does, direct the offense, score (18) and refuse to rest (37 minutes).

Now Indiana moves forward to Philadelphia on Friday for a game in the regional semifinals.

“I’m going to say it again,” Calipari said. “I think Tom deserves Coach of the Year.”

OK, I'll say it one final time: Credit Crean.

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