BLOOMINGTON – For 20 minutes of basketball Saturday in Assembly Hall, Indiana stood toe-to-toe with one of the nation’s top teams.
Fueled by 63 percent shooting in the first half, the Hoosiers trailed No. 4 Kentucky just 42-41 at halftime.
But after a layup by Jeremiah Rivers put IU ahead 48-47 with 17:42 remaining, the Wildcats (10-0) went on an 18-0 run en route to a comfortable 90-73 win.
“I knew Tom Crean would have them ready to go,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said. “This game, for us to win in that fashion, we played well. That’s like a February effort.”
The scoreless stretch of nearly five minutes, capped by an Eric Bledsoe dunk at the 12:40 mark, was too much for the Hoosiers (4-5) to overcome.
“We were just not as aggressive defensively,” Indiana coach Tom Crean said of the run. “And then we settled for some shots. I think it was more the defense than anything else. We just were not where we needed to be. We’ve got to create points off of our defense. We’re not going to score well enough against size and length and athleticism enough if we’re not getting easy baskets.”
The Hoosiers (4-5) struggled to rebound against Kentucky’s front court tandem of Patrick Patterson and DeMarcus Cousins. The Wildcats out-rebounded IU 49-24, including 21-8 on the offensive glass.
“They were more focused on getting the rebound more,” Indiana guard Maurice Creek said. “That’s a time thing. We’ve got to work on it and get better at it.”
Eric Bledsoe scored a career-high 23 points on 8 of 10 shooting to lead UK. Patterson added 19 points, Cousins had 14 and freshman John Wall had 11.
“I’m just happy for him,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said of Bledsoe. “He hasn’t played with any kind of aggressiveness or assertiveness, almost a casual game at times in the last two weeks.”
For Indiana, Creek had the best game of his young career, totaling 31 points, including 5 of 8 three-pointers and 8 of 8 from the foul line.
“How about this Creek kid?” Calipari said. “We’ve played a lot of good teams, and he’s as good as any player we’ve played.”
Despite the lopsided loss, Crean remained optimistic that the program is moving in the right direction. In last year’s Kentucky game at Rupp Arena, the Hoosiers trailed 32-6 midway through the first half.
“A year ago we play at Kentucky, it was a stunned locker room,” Crean said. “This year we play Kentucky, it’s a hurt locker room. And that’s progress to me as well.”
The four factors: No question about it, rebounding, particularly the offensive variety, was the difference in this game. Kentucky is already ranked in the top 10 nationally in this category and today’s performance only solidifies that position.
IU’s effective field goal percentage was nearly eight percentage points above their season average at 54.8%. But Kentucky’s was even better at 58.3%, which is pretty remarkable.
Besides Creek, Indiana struggled to get to the line. 14 free throw attempts at home isn’t a high enough number. The Hoosiers continue to improve at taking care of the ball. A turnover percentage of 13.4%, especially against a team with the speed and athleticism of Kentucky, is an impressive performance. Jeremiah Rivers was a big part of that with eight assists and one turnover.