ATLANTA (AP) – Well, this looks familiar. Kentucky is back in a regional final. So is Baylor.
The top-seeded Wildcats moved another step closer to the only goal that matters in the Bluegrass State, shaking off a rather quiet night from freshman star Anthony Davis to put away stubborn Indiana 102-90 at the South Regional on Friday.
Next up for Kentucky: Those neon-clad Bears, who advanced to their second regional final in three years with a 75-70 victory over Xavier.
“We’re just looking forward to go a little farther and make a little history,” said Baylor’s Quincy Acy, pointing toward Sunday’s game at the Georgia Dome.
Kentucky coach John Calipari knows a national title is expected — no, demanded — of his team. Anything less would be considered a disappointment, at least among the Wildcat faithful.
Calipari would prefer his young team simply enjoy the ride.
“I want them to have fun,” he said. “I don’t want them to feel all this. It seems there’s only one team that’s not allowed to lose in this tournament, and that’s us. It’s not true, and I don’t want them feeling all of that.”
The Wildcats (35-2) sure looked as if they were having fun against Indiana, which got into a running contest with a team that was a little faster, a little stronger and just a little too good.
Kentucky finished with its most points since a 108-58 victory over Marist in the season opener.
“I like a game like that,” Calipari said. “I can’t stand a game in the 50s. Can’t stand coaching it, can’t stand watching it.”
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist scored 24 points, Doron Lamb 21 and three of their teammates — not Davis, mind you — were in double figures. With that, the Wildcats dispatched the team that beat them back in early December.
“I feel like we did a pretty good job,” said Kentucky’s Darius Miller, who added 19 points. “So did Indiana. It was a very intense game. It was up and down for the most part. It was a fun game to be a part of, the way that both teams played.”
Davis wasn’t his usual dominating self after picking up two early fouls. He finished with nine points and 12 rebounds, so it was left to another of Kentucky’s super freshmen to take the starring role.
Kidd-Gilchrist had a double-double, also snatching 10 rebounds.
“In the huddles during timeouts, Michael was the guy firing us up,” teammate Twany Beckham said. “It showed with his play.”
Marquis Teague chipped in with 14 points and Terrence Jones 12.
Christian Watford had 27 points to lead the Hoosiers (27-9), who beat Kentucky 73-72 before Christmas but ended a comeback season with a loss to their border rival. Still, there was nothing to ashamed of, coming up two victories shy of the Final Four after winning a total of 28 games the previous three seasons.
Clearly, Indiana has regained its usual place among the college basketball bluebloods under coach Tom Crean.
“I know when I first got here it was rough for this program,” guard Victor Oladipo said. “We’ve been through a lot of ups and downs. Now that we’ve brought it all together, it’s a bright future for this program.”
But Big Blue is moving on this year.
“They’re a really good team,” Crean said. “They’ve got a lot of guys. They’ve got a guy coming off the bench (Miller) who’s going to be a first-round draft pick.”
Indiana’s freshman star, Cody Zeller, had 20 points, while Oladipo provided a spark in the backcourt with 15 before fouling out. Kidd-Gilchrist just kept pounding the ball inside, drawing foul after foul on the Hoosiers, then knocking down the free throws. He went 10-for-10 at the line.
He wasn’t the only one making free throws. Kentucky was a deadeye 35-of-37 at the line, compared to 13-of-17 for the Hoosiers.
“We were always playing uphill,” Crean said. “We had some guys playing on fumes. That game took a lot out of everybody, no question about that.”
Calipari shrugged off any suggestion that his team might be a little tired after such a run-and-gun game in the regional semifinals.
“When you’re playing at this time of the year, you’ve got more energy than you need,” the coach said. “This team is in great shape.”
In Baylor’s win, Quincy Acy picked up the slack for his roommate. The 6-foot-7 senior had a double-double on a lackluster night for sharpshooting Brady Heslip.
“I think I got a little of that magic from him,” Acy said.
The Baylor post players were not double-teamed most of the game and Acy took advantage of it to the tune of 20 points and 15 rebounds. Perry Jones III added 14 points.
Heslip, coming off his career-high 27 points on nine 3-pointers in Baylor’s second-round win over Colorado, made only one against Xavier. He finished with 11 points. But Acy had his back, throwing down several dunks and adding a few jump shots that surprised Xavier coach Chris Mack.
“He’s a cage-rattler,” Mack said. “I never saw him hit a 15-foot jump shot, and he does that in the first four minutes of the game.”
In the final minute, Acy knocked down a couple of free throws to help seal the victory, again leaving the Bears (30-7) on the brink of the Final Four. They also won three NCAA tournament games in 2010 before losing to eventual national champion Duke.
Wearing bright neon-green uniforms, the Bears led by 18 points less than 8 minutes into the game. Xavier (23-13) played from behind all night, but never quit. Tu Holloway led the Musketeers with 22 points, but they were hurt by poor shooting, especially from beyond the arc.
Xavier went 0-for-11 on 3-pointers before Justin Martin ended the drought with 2 minutes remaining.
“Unfortunately,” Xavier’s Kenny Frease said, “when you get down that much to a team like Baylor, a lot of times you’re not going to be able to come out of it, and today we couldn’t.”
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)