The atmosphere in Assembly Hall was electric just like last Saturday in Rupp Arena. Once again, Kentucky fell behind only to come back and take a late lead. Both teams had opportunities win as they did a week ago. Amazingly, the final score was even the same, but this time, the result went against the Wildcats.
The top-ranked Wildcats (8-1) came out on the wrong end of a 73-72 decision against home-standing Indiana (9-0), losing in pulse-pounding fashion as Christian Watford hit a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to propel the Hoosiers to a 73-72 and an on-court celebration with what seemed like the entire IU student body.
"This was a great game," head coach John Calipari said. "First all, you've got to give (IU head coach Tom Crean) credit for how his team played. They played us exactly how they had to to get it where they had to and their kids played well. They played aggressive, they attacked the ball, they were great. My hat's off to them. They deserved it."
Calipari never forgets to mention how much he detests losing and he certainly didn't in the aftermath of UK's first loss of 2011-12, but he couldn't help but look on the bright side of the defeat. His young team found itself down 63-53 with just 9:04 to play, but the Wildcats buckled down in front of the raucous crowd and very nearly rallied to the win.
"I'm proud of my team," Calipari said. "I'm proud of how they gutted it out in the second half, how they played to win."
UK relied on Darius Miller, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Doron Lamb and Marquis Teague to carry the load offensively down the stretch, as the four scored UK's final 37 points. In particular, UK capitalized on advantages Miller and Lamb had against their defenders while Kidd-Gilchrist did much of his damage attacking the offensive glass.
"We feel like we had mismatches and advantages at our positions," Miller said. "Coach felt the same way, I guess. He gave us both looks and we came through. It still ended up in a loss so it really doesn't mean much now."
Miller and Lamb certainly had their moments, but they've already proven they can get it done at this level on a stage like the one UK played on in Bloomington, Ind. Teague, on the other hand, has had an uneven start to his young college career. He's shown flashes of his five-star pedigree, but has struggled with turnovers and shot selection for extended stretches as well.
In the first half, he looked much more the part of the struggling freshman than the dynamic playmaker. At the break, he had no points and three turnovers as his team managed just 29 points and as many total turnovers (13) as made field goals. Playing in his home state and in a hostile road environment for the first time, his subpar first half came as no surprise to Calipari.
"I just said, 'you're not playing the way I want you to play so I'm going to bring you off the bench,' "Calipari said. "It's pretty simple. He was antsy to start and I even told him, 'I expected you to play this way. You're whole family is here, you've got the fans on you, you want to prove yourself.' "
As Calipari expected him to struggle in the first half, he also expected him to respond to coming off the bench in the second. That's exactly what he did. Teague got to the rim at will, scoring 15 points on perfect 6-for-6 shooting and seemed in control of his team, committing no turnovers after the half.
"I thought he played well in the second half," Calipari said. "He didn't play well in the first half and I thought he started running our team. What I told him was, 'If you play to score, you're screwing us up. If you play to win, you'll still score.' "
His teammates' confidence in him never wavered.
"He's a great player like I've been saying," Miller said. "He was just struggling in the first half. All of us - every single one of us - has struggled on game or another. Every single player in the world struggles. He came back strong. He did a great job of running our team in the second half and he came up with huge, huge buckets."
Indiana needed 9-of-15 shooting from 3-point range to knock off the Cats, including 7-for-9 in the second half to overcome Teague's performance. UK also played with exceptional poise to put themselves in position to win save for Watford's game winner, but much of the focus postgame dwelled on why the losing team failed to foul in the final seconds, just as it did after the Cats dispatched the Tar Heels.
Having committed just four team fouls in the second half, UK had two fouls to give after Lamb hit a free throw to extend UK's lead to 72-70 with five seconds remaining. Before Lamb's shot, Crean called timeout to set up a play for his team, during which Calipari instructed his youngsters to use the fouls they had left.
"You've got to understand, the whole timeout was, 'we got two fouls to give, we're fouling once and if they throw it near half-court, just make sure they're not in a shooting motion and we're going to foul again,' " Calipari said. "The officials knew we were going to foul and they said, 'just make sure they're not in the motion of shooting.' "
Teague tried to follow his coach's instructions, making contact with Verdell Jones III, the IU guard who passed to Watford for the buzzer beater, but no call was made. After that, Calipari was left wondering why Teague's four teammates failed to get a hand on either Jones III or Watford before the junior forward released the game's final shot.
"I have no idea what went through their minds," Calipari said. "Maybe they thought, 'I'm not fouling, the time's going to run out.' I don't know, but that's an inexperienced team."
Ultimately, Calipari is happy he gets to go back and watch tape of a head-scratching finish in a December loss rather than one in March or April.
"I'm proud of my team to have a chance to win that game and then put ourselves in a position to win that game," Calipari said. "It's just a great lesson. Five seconds to go, 'what were you hearing in that last timeout?' "