It’s time for some facts. Unpleasant though they may be.
This has happened twice before. There were two seasons where we played Kentucky in the tournament after beating them in the regular season. In both instances the outcome of the second meeting was impacted by injury.
We lost both times.
In December 1974 we beat Kentucky 98-74, and it wasn’t as close as that. Bob Hammel describes the game in his book “Perfect: Bob Knight and Indiana’s 2-Year Quest. College Basketball’s Last Unbeaten Champion”
“Indiana raced out in front quickly, leading 12-3, then 27-13 and 50-30 before halftime came at 54-38…The lead was 88-57 and headed for a fifty-point margin when Knight removed his starters, with over eight minutes to go.”
As that season wound down, and after the Big Ten title was decided for the Hoosiers, the team went into West Lafayette to take on Purdue. Sometime in the first half, and I say sometime, because even Scott May himself didn’t seem to know when it happened but the best he could figure was during an attempt for a rebound his arm hit the arm of Purdue freshman Wayne Walls and broke.
May was out for weeks. He returned to practices, first in limited and tentative action, then in full contact and he felt ready to go. By the regional finals game against Kentucky, May had been back in the line up for a few games, playing sparingly, but for the UK game, Knight felt he was ready to start.
But May’s arm wasn’t back at full strength and the pace of the game proved to quick for his weakened arm. Kentucky ended our undefeated season 92-90. A remarkable reversal from the first game that wouldn’t have been possible without the Scott May injury.
In December, 1982 with both teams entering the game at 7-0, UK ranked 2nd and IU ranked 5th, seniors Randy Wittman, Ted Kitchell and Jim Thomas played every minute of the game. Indiana prevailed in that battle of the unbeatens 62-59 and vaulted to the #1 ranking.
Two months later, on a road trip to Michigan, senior forward and Big Ten leading scorer, Ted Kitchell came out of the game with severe back pain, a recurrence of a problem that had plagued him in the past. The injury required surgery and Kitchell’s career ended that night in Ann Arbor, and when IU met up again with Kentucky in the NCAA tournament, it had a very 1975 feel about it.
May’s injury occurred one month to the day before the Kentucky loss, as did Kitchell’s. Both teams were changed with the losses of one of their leaders, and UK took advantage both times, besting the ’83 squad 65-59.
So, now we find ourselves on the eve of another IU-UK NCAA tournament rematch. A rematch of an IU win, a couple of weeks after an injury to a player who was a key factor in the previous game.
And history is not on our side. UK is 2-0 in these same circumstances. The fact that there are two other similar circumstances in this rivalry is noteworthy enough. Noteworthy, but not predictive.
After all, we did meet in the tournament once before. In 1972 we beat UK in December and then beat them again in the regional finals before bowing to UCLA in the Final Four in March of 1973.
If we’re playing a short game, Friday night’s match up can be seen as a chance for revenge for UK. But the long game says this is a chance for IU to even the historical record and exact some best-served-very-cold style revenge for ’75 and ’83. For May and Kitchell.
I’m ready for some payback. How about you?