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March 24, 2012

Kentucky advances to third straight Elite Eight

ATLANTA - John Calipari looked ready for nap.

The Kentucky coach seemed to have worn himself out on the sidelines as his team sprinted past Indiana 102-90 Friday night at the Georgia Dome, advancing to Sunday's NCAA Tournament South Regional Semifinal, and Calipari - meeting the media in the early hours of Saturday morning - looked ready to nod off.

And so it's understandable that Hoosiers coach Tom Crean said he told Calipari afterward, "Make sure you got enough energy to win this thing, because that game took a lot out of everybody." And it's logical that Calipari was asked if the Wildcats might not have much in the tank for Sunday's 2:30 p.m. battle with Baylor.

Calipari didn't seem concerned.

"When you're playing at this time of the year, you've got more energy than you need," Calipari said. "This team is in great shape."

Why should he worry?

The Wildcats (35-2) looked built to run on Friday, sprinting to their highest point total since the season opener against Marist. Indiana (27-9) was looking to push the pace, but it suited Kentucky fine.

In running past the Hoosiers, UK avenged its only regular-season loss - Christian Watford, who hit the game-winner in that Dec. 10 Indiana win, led IU with 27 points on Friday - but that wasn't the point.

The Wildcats advanced to their third straight Elite Eight under Calipari. On Sunday at 2:30 p.m., they'll face Baylor in the South Regional Final with a second straight Final Four trip on the line.

So Calipari downplayed the revenge angle. Though he admitted late in the regular season that his team had been motivated by an ESPN commercial that showed Watford's game-winner, he steered clear of it this week.

"We never watched the ad, I didn't put in tapes, we didn't talk about the last game," Calipari said. "We didn't. Let us worry about us playing well. If that's not good enough, us at our best, then someone played really good."

Indiana did on Friday.

The Hoosiers shot 52.2 percent from the floor and scored the most points any team had against a Calipari-coached Kentucky defense since UK beat Sam Houston State 102-92 in the third game of his tenure.

"That was them," said senior Darius Miller, who had 19 points for UK. "They were knocking down shots. They were being really aggressive and getting to the rim. We just had trouble guarding them tonight."

Kentucky had lots of trouble.

It had foul trouble - two early fouls sent Anthony Davis to the bench for most of the second half - and trouble guarding Watford and Cody Zeller, who scored 20 points.

But it didn't have trouble scoring in transition - UK matched IU with 18 fast-break points - or closing out the Hoosiers in the second half. The Wildcats made their last 16 free throws and 35-of-37 overall.

"I've been doing this 20 years, so I don't know, but I've probably had some teams that have done this," Calipari said. "But I've also had some teams that shoot 30 percent from the foul line.

"So I've had bad free throw shooting teams and had to figure that out. Let me say this. It's a lot easier when they go up and make free throws, I'll tell you that."

Kentucky got 24 points and 10 rebounds from Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. Doron Lamb added 21 points. Marquis Teague shot 4-for-14 but finished with 14 points, seven assists and two turnovers.

There were brilliant performances on both sides - 10 players scored in double digits - in what was perhaps this NCAA Tournament's most entertaining game. Both teams attacked the rim. Both were efficient offensively.

There was no buzzer-beating drama, but there were 40 minutes of high-quality basketball between two teams long on talent on heart. In the end, Kentucky had enough of both to survive.

And Calipari's unconcerned that the tank might be empty on Sunday - or that his team will feel the favorite's burden when it's time to play Baylor.

"You know, it seems like there's only one team that is not allowed to lose in this tournament, and that's us," Calipari said. "I don't want them to feel that. That's not the case."

That's why on Thursday Calipari took his team to the movies - the Cats saw 21 Jump Street, "Which I had to sit through, by the way," he said - instead of having them watch NCAA Tournament games.

Calipari wants his players relaxed. He wants them having fun.

That's why early Saturday morning, after the Cats sent the Hoosiers home, after they sprinted past Indiana, he told them to slow down. For just a moment, he wanted them to savor it.

"Today (Indiana) had a chance to beat us in the way they played and gave themselves every opportunity," Calipari said. "But I enjoy this. I tell these guys all the time enjoy winning. You smile and enjoy it, because the other (option) stinks."


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