Bloomington – The magnitude of Arkansas' first-round NCAA encounter with Indiana isn't lost on Coach John Pelphrey.
Sure, it's the realization of a season-long goal of every college basketball team to play in the Big Dance. There's also the opportunity to get a shot at No. 1 North Carolina in the second round for whoever emerges victorious Friday night in Raleigh, N.C.
But this is Indiana. While that might not mean as much to the 18-22 year olds that fill his roster, it does mean something to Pelphrey.
The first-year Razorbacks' coach grew up in Paintsville, Ky., a town of 4,000 tucked away in the eastern corner of the state. A standout prep basketball player who led his tiny school to a Sweet 16 berth in the state playoffs as a senior, Pelphrey would go on to play at Kentucky from 1989-92.
While Pelphrey's passion as a youth was the Wildcats, he was also well aware of powerhouse program to the north.
"When I was growing up, Indiana was doing it - it was in their heyday," Pelphrey said. "It couldn't have been any bigger."
While Pelphrey was going through some peaks and valleys during his UK career – the Wildcats were hit hard by probation in the late 80s before rebounding in the early 90s – Indiana was rolling. From 1989-92 the Hoosiers were 101-31, won a pair of Big Ten titles and went to the 1992 Final Four.
That resulted in some lean times for UK in the annual showdown. The Hoosiers whipped the Wildcats by 23 in Lexington in 1989 and pulled out a couple of narrow victories in 1990 and 1991.
"If you know anything about the series, at that time frame, when the games were played the talent level was incredible," Pelphrey said. "When probation hit us, some of our guys left and the balance of power shifted so to speak."
While Indiana was watching players such as Calbert Cheaney, Alan Henderson, Greg Graham and Damon Bailey develop into all-time greats, the Wildcats were watching their star players bolt. LeRon Ellis departed for Syracuse, Chris Mills went to Arizona and Eric Manuel enrolled in junior college.
Kentucky eventually rebounded under the leadership of Rick Pitino, and Pelphrey secured his lone win against IU as a senior. It came in front of 40,000-plus at the HoosierDome, as Kentucky posted a 76-74 win to end the Hoosiers' three-game winning streak.
Pelphrey hopes to get a second win over the Hoosiers on Friday night, this time as a head coach. It's a match-up that carries a great deal of significance to the former UK star.
"I don't know if guys today understand what Coach (Bob) Knight was able to accomplish, what the players were like there, but for me, thinking about it, having a chance to be the head coach at Arkansas, I'm very humbled by that," Pelphrey said. "Us playing Indiana in the NCAA Tournament, that's a big deal."
NCAA: IU Match-Up Means Something To Pelphrey
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