INDIANAPOLIS-When the final horn sounded at the RCA Dome Saturday, it was obvious Mike Davis hadn't exactly been forthright earlier in the week.
The Hoosier coach said Thursday that Indiana's matchup with No. 15 Kentucky – a team that had handled and occasionally humiliated his Indiana teams in each of the last five meetings – wasn't any bigger than any other game on the schedule, and placing too much emphasis on any game this early in the season would be a mistake.
But after Sean Kline corralled the game's final rebound and hoisted it into the air, it was obvious Indiana's surprisingly-easy 79-53 win wasn't just any other win to Davis or his team.
Just seconds after the game concluded, Davis was first engulfed by a hug from 6-8, 268-pound Marco Killingsworth, who bounced back from his worst game of the year with what Davis called his best performance, a 23-point, 11-rebound, four-assist outing against the Wildcats. Davis was then greeted in the same manner by sophomore Robert Vaden, who contributed 11 points, five assists and six rebounds to the Indiana cause.
"We had a lot of guys that wanted this win bad," said Vaden.
And truth be told, no one wanted it more than Davis, who had been unable to figure out a way to beat one of Indiana's biggest rivals – a fact that wasn't sitting well with Indiana's fan base.
"This was a great victory for our fans," said Davis. "We played with passion and energy. We didn't do everything right, but we played hard."
If the game meant the most to Davis, Killingsworth ranked a close second. The former Auburn player had matched Davis' 0-5 mark against the Tubby Smith-coached Wildcats, and admitted afterwards that he wanted the win in the worst way.
"If you play basketball at the college level, you're not going to like Kentucky," said Killingsworth, who was 7-of-8 from the floor. "They're one of those teams, you love them or you hate them. And I hate them."
That level of distaste for the neighbors to the south is due in part to the recent run of Wildcat success against Killingsworth, Davis, and the Hoosiers. Indiana had dropped 10 of the last 11 meetings overall, with an 83-75 Indiana win in 1999 the only blip on an otherwise perfect UK series run.
But Saturday's outcome stood in stark contrast to those other outings. Indiana used a 10-2 run early to open a 16-8 lead, and would quickly push that lead to double digits. Aided by Kentucky's 0-of-12 3-point shooting in the opening half, Indiana led at intermission, 35-19.
Any sort of second half Kentucky rally – one that likely seemed inevitable to most IU fans – never came. Kentucky pulled within 12 early in the half, and then used some fullcourt pressure in the closing minutes to cut the margin to 13, 65-52, with 1:56 on the clock. But Indiana closed the game on a 14-1 run that gave IU its most lopsided win in the 49-game series history.
The Hoosiers' second-half effort was keyed by sophomore A.J. Ratliff, who scored all of his game-high 21 points in the final 20 minutes. After earning his first start of the season, Ratliff picked up two quick fouls in the first half and went scoreless, but bounced back with a 6-of-9 effort in the second half that included a pair of 3-pointers.
"It was just coming to me," said Ratliff, who had scored just two points in his first three games back from thumb surgery. "I got some open shots, and some free throws and I let the game come to me."
Killingsworth, meanwhile, attacked offensively when he was in one-on-one match-ups, and kicked the ball out when Kentucky opted to double or triple team him. That, in turn, helped the Hoosiers shoot 53.3 percent against the Wildcats, ending a run of 31 straight UK foes that failed to shoot 50 percent from the floor.
Killingsworth said his 10-point, seven-turnover effort in Tuesday's loss at Indiana State showed him he can help Indiana just as much with his passing as his scoring when teams opt to collapse on him in the paint.
"Coach and I were battling this week," said Killingsworth. "He got on me pretty hard about Indiana State and I tried to bounce back.
"I didn't force the issue. I let it come to me. Whatever I do, they're going to triple team me. After that Duke game, no one is going to ever play me one-on-one. So I know I have to pass the ball a whole lot."
While Killlingsworth and Ratliff paced the team offensively, Indiana's defensive effort was equally as important. Kentucky missed its first 20 3-pointers and wound up just 2-of-27 from behind the arc. Kentucky shot 31.1 percent from the floor for the game and committed 19 turnovers compared to just four assists.
That helped the Hoosiers to a decided 25-11 edge in points off turnovers.
"If we can play defense like that all the time, I don't think we'll have problems with anybody," said Vaden.
Killingsworth 7-8 9-14 23, Vaden 5-11 0-0 11, Ratliff 6-9 7-8 21, Strickland 2-8 6-7 10, Monroe 0-1 3-4 3, Wilmont 1-2 0-0 2, Suhr 0-1 0-0 0, Allen 1-3 1-2 4, Kline 0-0 0-0 0, Calloway 2-2 0-0 5. Totals 24-45 26-35 79.
Sims 1-2 0-0 2, Alleyene 1-2 0-0 2, Moss 0-3 0-0 0, Rondo 6-15 9-11 21, Sparks 2-7 2-3 6, Stockton 1-2 0-0 3, Bradley 4-14 0-0 8, Obrzut 0-0 0-0 0, Perry 1-6 0-0 2, Thomas 1-1 0-0 2, Crawford 2-9 2-3 7. Totals 19-61 13-17 53.
Halftime Score: Indiana 35, Kentucky 19. 3-Pointers: Indiana 5-16 (Vaden 1-3, Ratliff 2-4, Strickland 0-2, Monroe 0-1, Suhr 0-1, Allen 1-3, Wilmont 0-1, Calloway 1-1), Kentucky 2-27 (Sims 0-1, Moss 0-2, Rondo 0-6, Sparks 0-3, Stockton 1-2, Bradley 0-7, Perry 0-1, Crawford 1-5). Rebounds: Indiana 34 (Killingsworth 11), Kentucky 36 (Rondo 9). Assists: Indiana 16 (Vaden 5), Kentucky 4 (Rondo 2). Turnovers: Indiana 13 (Vaden 5), Kentucky 19 (Rondo 6). Blocks: Indiana 2 (Ratliff, Allen), Kentucky 2 (Sims, Bradley). Officials: J.D. Collins, Tom Eads, Gene Crawford. Attendance: 28,031.
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