Hoosiers' rout exposes Kentucky's issues for all to see
INDIANAPOLIS -- Forget The Rick. The most avid ESPN watcher this weekend is Indiana basketball coach Mike Davis.
Early "SportsCenter." Late "SportsCenter." Any and every college hoops highlight show. He'll turn on the Worldwide Leader and smash the remote, so the channel never changes. And he'll smile broadly every time they show his Hoosiers doing what they'd failed to do since Davis became their head coach five years ago.
"It's just unbelievable to be able to go home and sit back and watch the news and SportsCenter and not feel like the end of the world's coming," Davis said after his team crushed the Wildcats 79-53 in the RCA Dome. "The other [Kentucky games] have been bad Christmases -- not watching highlights, putting a pillow over your face, wondering how you're ever going to beat those guys.
"I don't have to turn to TNT or the Oxygen station. I can turn to a station with sports on it. In every room of the house."
The highlights will show that Indiana didn't just beat Kentucky. It humiliated its December nemesis. Davis handed Tubby Smith his worst loss in nine seasons as coach of the Wildcats and handed Big Blue its worst loss in 16 years, since Rick Pitino's first month in charge of a probation-shattered program.
That's almost enough to erase five years of heartburn in a single afternoon. It's definitely enough to make Davis one happy couch potato.
"It means a whole lot," Davis' wife, Tamilya, said. "A lot. A lot."
The highlight loop will run all night in Davis' mind, and probably well into Sunday. That's how badly he needed this win. That's how badly he'd been beaten down by UK over the years.
It wasn't just that Davis was 0-5 against Kentucky before this game. He was 0-5 and dominated, losing by an average of 17 points per meeting. He was 0-5 and embarrassed, seemingly finding a new way to lose his mind every season.
There was the "I can't coach this team" postgame meltdown in 2000. There was the "Help is on the way" postgame speech in 2001, implying the players that he had lacked talent (this team eventually made the Final Four). There was the utter debacle in 2002, when Davis charged the court slapping his forehead and screaming for a foul in the closing seconds, warranting an ejection from official Burt Smith. There was the 39-point obliteration in 2003, a loss so ugly that Davis never did come into the postgame press conference.
In comparison to all that, last year's 15-point loss was uneventful. But it also underscored the newly lopsided nature of one of the nation's premier rivalry games: IU and Davis were getting used to taking a beating from the Wildcats.
And that was a major reason why Mike Davis came into this season with his job in jeopardy. There have been too many losses in general for a program of Indiana's stature, but too many in specific to border rival Kentucky.
This victory by no means gets Davis out of the employment woods -- especially coming off a galling upset loss to Indiana State. But it sure beats the alternative.
That's why Indiana senior strongman Marco Killingsworth -- his 23 points, 11 rebounds and four assists in the books -- celebrated so passionately in the final minute Saturday. He wrapped his beefy arms around Davis from behind and bounced up and down, nearly jumping on his coach for a piggyback ride.
What was Killingsworth shouting in your ear, Mike?
"I don't know, but he was getting my suit stinky," Davis said, an unconvincing complaint.
"Finally got 'em!" Killingsworth said he yelled to his coach. "We beat them jokers!"
Killingsworth, an Auburn transfer, also had been oh-for-Kentucky in his college career. This was personal for him, too.
"I've always disliked them," he said of the Wildcats. "I disliked them at Auburn. They walked around with that swagger, like they're so good."
Killingsworth wasn't done there.
"You play basketball, if you play on the college level, you ain't gonna like Kentucky," he said. "You just ain't gonna like them. They're just one of those teams, you're gonna love them or you're gonna hate them, and I hate them. I'm being straightforward with you, I don't like them."
That last quote was disseminated to the media by the Indiana media relations staff on a quote sheet. A while later, realizing that the quote violated the Painful Politeness Standard that breeds utterly boring comments from athletes nationwide, the IU staff tried to retrieve the sheets from the media without explaining why.
Too late. The First Amendment lives. Let freedom of speech ring. Let Marco speak. He's got one more zinger to deliver:
"Kentucky's always on top," Killingsworth said. "When they beat you they're always bragging and stuff like that. One of their guys said, 'It's about time you beat us.' Well, you can say whatever the hell you want. You gotta drive home five hours and put up with a loss."
And when the Cats get home, they've got to endure a week of fan panic leading into the annual Armageddon game against Louisville next Saturday in Rupp Arena. A 6-3 record is always cause for concern in Lexington, but this blowout raises the specter of an almost intolerable trifecta for Big Blue Nation: consecutive Saturday losses to North Carolina, Indiana and the Cardinals.
The losses to the Tar Heels and Hoosiers have been bleak enough: The Cats trailed Carolina for the final 30 minutes and 47 seconds last week, then trailed Indiana for the final 36:16 Saturday. After this disaster, Kentucky players weren't shy in their self-criticism.
"We've got a couple of ego problems," point guard Rajon Rondo said. "Everyone's got to stay humble. ... Guys will have a good game, then stop going to the gym, stop working on their game.
"This is keeping us humble, two big losses in our weekend games. There's no reason to have a big ego."
Rondo said Kentucky showed "no leadership, really," and challenged both himself and the team's senior class to step up.
"I guess we've got to play with a lot more heart," Rondo said. "And get our big man back."
Chances are strong that Randolph Morris isn't coming back. Kentucky is appealing the NCAA's decision to suspend Morris for the full season for violations he committed while trying unsuccessfully to get drafted by the NBA last summer.
Saturday we saw why the school was scrambling almost shamelessly to get Morris back -- its interior game is terrible without him.
The five players Smith used inside combined to score eight points, just more than one-third of Killingsworth's total by himself. Combine that with a horrific shooting display and you have one of the worst performances in recent program history.
A Kentucky offense that flowed like sludge was a horrific 2-for-27 from 3-point range. The Wildcats missed their first 20 threes until finally making one with 3:30 left.
"It's ridiculous," swingman Joe Crawford said of the perimeter shooting.
Nobody's fate is cemented before Christmas -- the Cats aren't hopeless, and the Hoosiers haven't convinced anyone they'll make an RCA Dome return visit for the Final Four.
But say this much for Indiana: There is hope. Killingsworth has been an absolute load this year, putting up almost 20 and 10 every night. When double-teamed, he's got a reliable group of perimeter shooters to find outside the arc. Indiana is once again solid defensively. And the Hoosiers have sophomore power forward D.J. White on the mend as well.
After breaking his foot in preseason, White suited up for the first time Saturday. Davis was asked if he was tempted to play the big guy at any time against the Cats.
"You want people to kill me?" Davis said, smiling. "D.J. only dressed because he wanted to dress. Once we get D.J. back, it takes us to a different level."
Expect White to play Dec. 19 at Charlotte. And with him, expect Indiana to prominently figure in the Big Ten race.
The Hoosiers' performance after the New Year will be the thing that truly decides Mike Davis' fate -- both Big Ten performance and NCAA Tournament performance. But beating Kentucky was an important precursor to that -- and routing Kentucky was that much nicer.
Especially since it gave Mike Davis hours of enjoyable television viewing Saturday night.
Pat Forde is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.
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