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March 22, 2012
Cats look forward to IU, not back to first meeting
ATLANTA - They say time heals all wounds, and by the time the Kentucky basketball team faces Indiana Friday night, the Wildcats will have had 105 days to nurse theirs.
But as the Wildcats (34-2) and Hoosiers (27-8) prepare for a rematch in an NCAA Tournament South Regional Semifinal Friday at the Georgia Dome, last December's losers insist they've moved on.
There are bigger things at stake now than revenge.
"This is just the next game," Miller said Thursday. "It happens to be them."
Fresh and painful though it may be, that Indiana game is nothing more than a memory now. And Kentucky is focused on making some new ones. The Wildcats set out this season to win an NCAA championship.
They're four wins away.
"However we play now is what defines us," Kentucky forward Terrence Jones said Thursday. "That loss can define us if we let it, but how we play now is really the only thing that matters."
So maybe it's not defining.
Maybe that game in December - with the Christian Watford buzzer-beater that's been perpetually played on ESPN in the months since - isn't the seminal moment in either team's season.
It remains memorable. And it might be meaningful.
Much has changed in the three-plus months since Indiana stunned No. 1 Kentucky at Assembly Hall. The Wildcats turned into one of the nation's most dominant teams. Indiana turned a corner in Tom Crean's rebuilding process, reaching its first NCAA Tournament since 2008.
"I feel like we're playing with a lot more confidence than we were playing with back then," Watford said. "As far as Kentucky, they're gelling a lot better. They were kind of young. The season was at the beginning. They're getting their chemistry together. So they're a lot better basketball team."
And though Kentucky spent part of its season trying to forget that December matchup, Crean wants Indiana to remember it. It's a reminder that the Wildcats aren't invincible.
"(When you) play a team like Kentucky, there's a lot of different stages that you've got to go through, and belief is a big part of that because they're so good," Crean said. "You have to literally believe you can win the game, because they have the ability to come in and throw those first couple blows and punches in a game, and they're hard to recover from. If you don't believe you can win, it's a lot harder to recover from that."
The Hoosiers believe.
But the Wildcats are confident, too. And with good reason.
Foul trouble limited Anthony Davis to 24 minutes against Indiana in Bloomington. He's played 30 or more in 22 of the 27 games since, and only once in that stretch has he committed more than three fouls in a game.
"I always say I blame myself for us losing that game," Davis said.
He's hardly the only culprit. There's blame to go around.
Jones was a virtual no-show against the Hoosiers, finishing with four points and one rebound in 28 minutes. When Watford's shot sank at the buzzer, Jones was watching from the bench.
"I just played bad," Jones said. "I don't have any other (reason). They doubled me, they got me thinking, and I just started thinking too much and wasn't into it. I'm just ready to go out there and play now."
Given all that went wrong for the Wildcats - Davis' limited minutes, Jones' lack of production, a thunderous crowd in a young team's first road game, Indiana's 9-for-15 three-point shooting - there's reason to believe a second Indiana upset will be an uphill climb.
"We know we've got a major, major task in front of us in playing this Kentucky team," Crean said. "We know how good this South Region is. We knew that from the time the brackets came out, and Kentucky is considerably better than what they were when we played them when they were No. 1 in the country. And they were really good then."
That game's a memory. Kentucky's had some time to forget. The Wildcats are living in the now.
"I'm just looking forward to trying to be in the Sweet 16 and advance," Jones said. "Whoever the opponent was, I'd be feeling the same way."