ATLANTA – The sequel rarely lives up to the original.
But Friday’s Sweet 16 contest between Indiana and Kentucky did all it could to match the Dec. 10 classic.
The teams played at a breathtaking pace in front of an electric crowd at the Georgia Dome. This time, a trip to the Elite 8 was on the line.
Unfortunately for IU, the contest had a sour outcome. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist scored 24 points to lead the Wildcats to a 102-90 victory against the Hoosiers in a South region semifinal.
Doron Lamb added 21 points for Kentucky (35-2). The Wildcats advance to play Baylor Sunday.
Christian Watford, the hero of the 73-72 regular-season win against the Wildcats, led Indiana with 27 points. Cody Zeller added 20 as IU’s season came to an end.
But what a season it was.
After three seasons of at least 20 losses, IU won 27 games on the way to returning to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2002.
The regular season included wins against the No. 1, No. 2 and No. 5 ranked teams in the country.
Kentucky was the first victim on that list.
Fouls were the only thing slowing the teams down early Friday. Zeller, Jordan Hulls and Victor Oladipo collected two fouls in the first half for Indiana (27-9). Oladipo would eventually foul out with a little less than five minutes remaining.
Kentucky’s Anthony Davis was called for his second foul at 14:05 and sat for the rest of the half.
Davis’ absence didn’t slow down Kentucky offensively.
The Wildcats used the transition game to build a 29-20 lead with 9:56 to go.
IU gambled and brought Zeller back on the floor. The move worked, and Indiana slowly began to chip away at the deficit. And then Watford got hot. He scored 11 points during a 13-4 IU run. His basket with 3:29 to go gave the Hoosiers a 43-39 lead.
Kentucky responded by closing the half with an 11-4 run.
Darius Miller got hot for Kentucky to start the second half. The senior scored eight points in the first five minutes to give the Wildcats a 64-56 lead. A tip-in by Davis extended Kentucky’s lead to 79-66 with 8:57.
IU fought back and got within 82-77 with a Zeller tip-in with five minutes remaining.
The Hoosiers would get no closer.
But with one of the top recruiting classes in the country on its way, this is just the beginning for Indiana.