INDIANAPOLIS (AP)—Indiana coach Mike Davis hopped around, stomped his feet, argued with officials and then, finally, rewarded his players with hugs.
Davis overcame his most difficult obstacle as a head coach, beating Kentucky, with a perfect script.
Marco Killingsworth had 23 points and 11 rebounds, A.J. Ratliff added a career-high 21 points, and the 18th-ranked Hoosiers used a relentless defensive effort to rout No. 15 Kentucky 79-53 on Saturday—ending Davis’ five-game drought against the rival Wildcats.
“It feels good because when the scores come on, I don’t have to turn it to the friggin’ Oxygen channel or something,” Davis said. “My wife knows and everyone knows that, in the past, I don’t have the TV on anything that has basketball scores on.”
That’s because the Kentucky game has been more like a nightmare than a game for Davis.
Five straight losses to the Wildcats always seemed to fuel speculation about his job security, but as much as the defeats hurt, there were Davis’ memorable outbursts—he once ran onto the court and berated an official and another time questioned whether he was the right man to lead the Hoosiers (5-2).
On Saturday, Davis had all the right answers.
Ratliff delivered a big-time game in his first start of the season, and Killingsworth showed he could find open teammates quicker when Kentucky (6-3) tried to double team him. The combination put the Wildcats on their heels from the opening tip, and Indiana responded with its most lopsided victory in the 49-game series.
“They were obviously hungrier, more aggressive than we were,” Kentucky coach Tubby Smith said. “When you go 2-for-27 (on 3s) and have four assists and 19 turnovers, you’re not going to beat anybody.”
Somehow Davis got his Hoosiers to again play with the passion and persistence that almost helped them upset No. 1 Duke last week, and the changes were immediately noticeable.
Rather than settling for long jumpers, the Hoosiers patiently worked for good shots and embarrassed the Wildcats in front of a crowd topping 28,000— half clad in Kentucky blue, the other half in Indiana red.
The Hoosiers scored 25 points off Kentucky turnovers and the Wildcats missed their first 20 3-pointers.
“When they beat you, they’re always bragging,” Killingsworth said. “One of their guys said ‘It’s about time you all beat us.’ I said, ‘You can say whatever you want, but you’ve got to go home five hours with a loss.”’
Killingsworth, who had never beaten Kentucky in three seasons at Auburn before transferring to Indiana, celebrated by grabbing Davis around the neck and put him in a mock chokehold as time expired.
But the Hoosiers managed to keep their emotions in check Saturday— something they didn’t do at the start of the Duke game. They also maintained their poise after building a big lead, something they failed to do Tuesday when Indiana State upset them.
It was a far different performance from Tuesday’s lackluster effort.
Indiana was relentless on defense, forcing turnovers and contesting shots. The Hoosiers took care of the basketball and played hard.
They took control early, using a 12-2 run to build a 16-8 lead, followed that flurry with a 9-0 run that made it 25-12 and closed the half by scoring the final five points to take a 35-19 lead.
It was Kentucky’s lowest-scoring half since Jan. 19, when it scored 16 against Mississippi, and the Wildcats were 0-for-12 from 3-point range.
Rajon Rondo was the Wildcats’ top scorer, finishing with 21 points, most coming after the outcome had already been decided. He missed Tuesday’s game against Georgia State because of strep throat and didn’t look 100 percent.
“We didn’t play with intensity and we didn’t shoot the ball well at all,” Rondo said.
The Wildcats rallied in the final six minutes, using an 18-6 run to get within 59-47 with 3:21 to go. Davis appeared rattled, grabbing his head and pleading with his players to be sharper against the Wildcats’ full-court press.
But Kentucky could not get any closer, and Davis sweated out the final moments until Killingsworth grabbed him around the neck.
“My assistants wanted me to start putting subs in, but I was like ‘Hey, we haven’t won yet,”’ Davis said. “With about 30 seconds left, I was wondering if they had a 24-point play in them. But it feels good to win.”