INDIANAPOLIS – A.J. Ratliff only needed one thing to revive his game – some home cooking.
The sophomore guard had the most productive game of his collegiate career in his hometown as the No. 16 Hoosiers (5-2) knocked off No. 15 Kentucky (6-3) 79-53 at the RCA Dome. Ratliff made his first start of the season and scored 21 points to help the Hoosiers to their most convincing win ever over the Wildcats.
"I started A.J. because I wanted to get his confidence going," said Indiana Coach Mike Davis. "Coach (Donnie) Marsh talked to him and told him to not worry about making shots. He's been concentrating the last couple of games on just making shots, but we told him just to play the game of basketball, play defense and it would come to him."
In his three games since coming back from a broken thumb, Ratliff has played sparingly, totaling only two points in the games against Duke, Eastern Michigan and Indiana State. But Saturday he looked more like the player that Davis raved about in October.
"Ratliff did a good job and he needed that confidence boost," said Davis. "He scored a lot of points for us in the second half. He made some big plays and hit some big shots. He's worked his way back."
Ratliff started the game not because the Hoosier coach envisioned him going off for a career-high, but because Marsh wanted to use him in an effort to contain Wildcat guard Patrick Sparks on the defensive end.
But the game didn't get started the way Ratliff had hoped, as he was held scoreless in the first half, playing just five minutes after drawing two early fouls. But Ratliff then broke out in the second half for a career-high 21 points.
"It was just coming to me," said Ratliff. "I knocked down some open shots and hit my free throws. I just let the game come to me because I was having fun. Coach Marsh and Coach (Sidney) Green kept telling me to relax and focus on defense and my shot would come for me. Play good defense and worry about your shot later. That's what happened."
After not attempting a single shot in the first half, Ratliff knocked down 6-of-9 shots in the second half, including 2-of-4 3-pointers. He also went 7-of-8 from the charity stripe.
"I'm floating on air right now," said Ratliff. "We just beat a good Kentucky team and there was no better place to do that than at home in Indianapolis at the RCA Dome where we want to be in about four months (for the Final Four)."
A big part of Ratliff's contributions came during a critical second-half stretch. Kentucky had cut a 16-point halftime deficit to 12, but then Ratliff took control of the game. He led Indiana on a 14-4 run, scoring 10 points on two 3-pointers, a layup and two free throws.
"They were doubling Marco because they saw the success that Indiana State had doing that," said Ratliff. "We knew it was going to come so we practiced swinging the ball and (Marshall) Strickland just kept getting me the ball to knock down open shots."
The journey back has been a slow one for Ratliff. In the three games he played coming into the matchup with Kentucky, Ratliff had scored those two points on 1-of-7 shooting and averaged only eight minutes a game. Against Kentucky he scored 21 points in 21 minutes of play.
"(Starting the game) boosted my confidence," said Ratliff. "When Coach Davis told me in practice I was going to start, my confidence just flew sky high. That helped me relax and get back into the rhythm.
"It's been incredibly hard coming back. Conditioning-wise, learning new plays and getting yelled at. But in times like this it is so worth it. This is when you want that conditioning, you want to get yelled at and learn from those mistakes that you made."
The win over Kentucky was a first for the entire Indiana Hoosier basketball team – players and coaches. Ratliff hopes this may turn the tide in the favor of the Hoosiers, who now have nine days off before traveling to Charlotte for a matchup Dec. 19.
"Coming into this game they've been blowing us out," said Ratliff. "It feels good to get this win at home in Indianapolis and for Coach Davis. When he's smiling then you know you've done something right."
Ratliff Starts For Defense, Provides Offense
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