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March 20, 2012

Calipari downplays revenge angle as Cats meet IU

Yes, that commercial is irksome for the Kentucky basketball team.

Of course, the Wildcats tire of reminders about their lone regular-season loss, is worn out from watching Christian Watford's buzzer-beater that boosted Indiana to a 73-72 win against Kentucky on Dec. 10.

And sure, that's an easy motivational button for John Calipari to press this week as UK (34-2) prepares for a rematch with IU (27-8) in the NCAA Tournament Sweet 16.

But Calipari insists he isn't reaching for that one.

As Kentucky readies for the rematch at 9:45 p.m. at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, Calipari promises he isn't preaching payback.

"What I would tell you is, I don't ever teach anger because the physiology of that is really close to fear," Calipari said Tuesday. "So if you try to make your team angry… and it doesn't go right, it turns to fear within their own bodies."

But whether or not Calipari rallies his team around revenge, UK's second shot at IU is this week's prevailing subplot. It'll be an inescapable storyline, and it started literally minutes after Kentucky beat Iowa State to advance to the Sweet 16.

UK players were asked a string of questions about the Hoosiers and gave a wide range of answers.

"Honestly we haven't been thinking about them," point guard Marquis Teague said. "We had other games in this tournament we had to worry about to even make it to them."

But guard Doron Lamb, asked about that earlier loss, said, "We think about it all the time really."

It's hard not to. There are constant televised reminders of Watford's shot, whether on the ESPN Mobile ads that feature it or on broadcasts of Hoosiers games, many of which contained at least one replay - and several mentions - of IU's upset of the Wildcats.

Kentucky players have been subjected to replays of the shot and of Hoosier fans storming the court in celebration, a moment of which they needed little reminding.

"I honestly was mad that we lost, just like I was in any other loss," senior Darius Miller said. "We're a very competitive team. It was rough for it to end like that. We had fought back. We had put a lot of energy and effort into the game."

Miller's memory of the finish centers mostly on trying to contest Watford's shot. Other than that, he said, he mostly remembers being "pretty much swarmed" by Indiana fans after the shot sank and the buzzer sounded.

For the most part, the Wildcats have downplayed the revenge angle. Freshman Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is the exception, telling reporters after the Iowa State game "I hate that (ESPN) commercial" and "We're going to get them back" after the Iowa State game, according to USA Today.

"He's the youngest freshman in the country," Calipari said on Tuesday. "They say stupid things."

The Hoosiers expect the Wildcats to be payback-minded.

"They should have (revenge on their minds) a lot, shouldn't they?" IU guard Victor Oladipo said. "They lost a big game. That's what, their second
loss of the whole season? That's huge for them."

But there's some difference of opinion on just how much the earlier meeting means - and who it helps.

Though it's a motivational tool for Kentucky, IU's December win is "definitely helpful" for the Hoosiers, forward Tom Pritchard said. It gives IU confidence that it can beat the tournament's No. 1 overall seed again.

UK forward Terrence Jones isn't so sure that the December game gives an edge to either team.

"It's going to be a whole different game, a whole different environment," Jones said. "(Indiana) beat us before, so we're going to have to respect them and just try to match their intensity."

The Dec. 10 game was in front of a rowdy crowd at Assembly Hall in Bloomington. It was Kentucky's first true road game. Plenty has changed since.

"That was like a season ago, literally, four months ago," Calipari said. "That was so long ago I had to watch the tape to remember anything. But they played well. One thing about it, we're better, but so are they. Both teams are way better than they were then."

On Friday, Kentucky gets its shot to prove how much better.

Miller isn't so sure he'd have drawn it up this way.

"Honestly, I don't know who I would pick (to play in the Sweet 16)," Miller said. "They beat us before, so I would probably pick somebody who hasn't beat us."


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