ATLANTA — Few programs can match Kentucky and Indiana for passion and tradition. Tonight the two meet in a South Region semifinal with the Wildcats seeking revenge for a regular-season loss in Bloomington but not satisfied with anything less than a national championship.
"It's Kentucky," coach John Calipari said. "Do you expect anything else? You're supposed to win every game by 25. If you're winning by 15, what's the issue? What's going on with the program? If you lose, God forbid, lose one, how can we lose this game?"
Few fans get as worked up as those in the Bluegrass State. Among those who do are the hoops-crazy Hoosiers.
"There's always been a special aura around and about Indiana to me," said coach Tom Crean, "and I would say the same thing about Kentucky."
Indiana's buzzer-beating 73-72 regular-season victory was a mere speed bump for Kentucky on the way to the Wildcats finishing No. 1 in the rankings, but it was a huge boost to Indiana's self-esteem. Cody Zeller, a Hoosiers freshman center, is 19 and has little memory of his home-state team as being relevant.
"Throughout my life, Indiana basketball hasn't been real great," he said.
This season might be changing that.
"I feel like we're playing with a lot more confidence than we were playing with back then," said junior forward Christian Watford, who hit the winning 3-pointer against the Wildcats.
unc's marshall out? North Carolina coach Roy Williams said Thursday he had a "strong, strong inclination" that starting point guard Kendall Marshall would not play against Ohio tonight in a Midwest Region semifinal. Marshall had surgery Monday for a broken right wrist. "If he comes in to my room and says, 'My wrist feels great' and he drops down to the floor and does 10 pushups on his right hand, then I'll say I'll probably play his rear end,'' Williams said. "But I don't expect that to happen. I mean, the guy can't brush his teeth right now."
Ohio: John Groce isn't saying whether he's interested in any high-profile coaching vacancies. Groce's name has been connected to Nebraska and Illinois. He said he will comment on his future after the season.
xavier: Guard Tu Holloway said he is still happy he passed up the NBA draft last year to return for a final season that has been bittersweet. In December he played a central role in a brawl with Cincinnati. But he leads the team in points, assists, steals, free-throw percentage and minutes as Xavier has reached its fourth region semifinal in five seasons. "I'm about to graduate," he said. "We've been through a lot this year, not only basketball, but the things we've been through are going to help us all out as people later in life."