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Indiana v. Kentucky: the history of a storied rivalry.

The IU bench celebrates one of IU's few recent wins over Kentucky (this is from December 2005).  (used with permission via Getty Images subscription).
The IU bench celebrates one of IU's few recent wins over Kentucky (this is from December 2005). (used with permission via Getty Images subscription).

Indiana and Kentucky meet for the 55th time on Saturday, and few if any inter-conference rivalries can match the historical pedigree of the two programs involved. Kentucky ranks second only to UCLA with 7 NCAA titles; IU is tied for third, with North Carolina, with 5. Yesterday, Terry Hutchens listed the 21 games in which IU faced a top ranked team. Kentucky has been the opponent in six of those games. IU has gone 1-5 against UK in those games, with the lone IU win coming in December 1993 (a game I attended in person, at the Hoosier Dome, and it was perhaps the most enjoyable IU game I have ever seen in person). Also, IU has been ranked #1 for three IU-UK games: the 1975 NCAA Tournament heartbreaker, a 92-90 loss in the regional final in Dayton that ended IU's undefeated season; revenge the next December, a 77-68 win in Louisville on the way to running the table (IU was ranked #1 from wire to wire); and a 69-58 loss in Lexington in December 1979. That means that after Saturday, either IU or UK will have been ranked numer one in 10 of the 55 meetings, which is nearly 20 percent of the meetings (exactly one in every 5.5 games). That is a top shelf series, and I really hope that despite the rumblings of the last week, John Calipari and Kentucky decide that it is in their interest, and in the interest of college basketball, to continue playing this game.

Of course, one of the reasons that Kentucky fans and decision-makers are willing to consider walking away from the IU series is because of how uncompetitive it has become. The aforementioned upset of Kentucky in 1993-94 marked sort of a transition point, both in the series and in the fortunes of IU's program. The 1994 team was the last IU team that Bob Knight led to the Sweet 16, and IU has gone beyond the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament only once since then, the run to the NCAA title game in 2002. After the win in 1993, IU led the all-time series 20-17, but Kentucky has gone 14-3 against the Hoosiers since then and now holds a fairly comfortable lead of 31-23. IU's wins have been widely scattered since then: a cathartic win in 1999-00, Bob Knight's last year; an even more cathartic win for Mike Davis in 2005-06, finally exercising the UK demon; and an enjoyable beatdown, 70-51, in 2007-08, Kelvin Sampson's second and final year, when freshman Jordan Crawford stepped in for Eric Gordon (injured) and Armon Bassett (er, unspecified violation of team rules) and torched his brother Joe's team. Hmm. See a trend in those last three wins? Tom Crean should cross the street very carefully if IU manages to beat the Wildcats.

Still, for all of the bad moments in this series for IU, perhaps because of the bad moments in this series, the recent wins have been pretty sweet.

December 8, 2007: Indiana 70, Kentucky 51. Here's what I said at the time:

Kentucky isn't a good team. Between the recruiting failures of the late-Tubby era, injuries, and transfer issues, this UK team is not reminiscent of the Tony Delk-Ron Mercer era. All that said, IU for all the expectations placed on this talented team, is young and inexperienced. The Hoosiers took the court without their best player and without any guard who played for IU last year. Despite the absence of Eric Gordon and Armon Bassett (plus AJ Ratliff, who will be back next week), IU beat Kentucky comfortably. IU never trailed, led by 12 at halftime, extended the lead to 20 within the first five minutes of the second half, and the score hovered around that margin for the rest of the way.

As everyone knows, the Kelvin Sampson unpleasantness already was underway, and other than the win over Pitt two years ago and NC State last week, IU really hasn't had a high profile non-conference win since.

December 10, 2005: Indiana 79, Kentucky 53. Most IU fans were happy to see Mike Davis move on after the 2005-06 season, and the Kentucky series provided some of Davis's lowest moment's as the Hoosiers' coach, but it was hard not to be happy for Davis when he finally beat Kentucky in his sixth and final try. Davis spent his collegiate playing career, at Alabama, getting kicked around by the Wildcats as well, and the game meant quite a bit to him, probably too much. Still, he finally broke through.

"It feels good because when the scores come on, I don't have to turn it to the 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."

December 4, 1999: Indiana 83, Kentucky 75. Kentucky has three five-game winning streaks over IU. Both the 1999 game and the 2005 game prevented UK from winning six in a row. In 1999, senior guards AJ Guyton (21 points, 4-6 from three) and Michael Lewis (17 points, 10-11 from the line) ensured that they wouldn't leave IU 0-for-UK. This was Bob Knight's last IU-UK game, and gave Knight a 15-17 record against UK at IU.

December 4, 1993: Indiana 96, Kentucky 84. This was IU's only win over a top-ranked UK team. As I said, I was at this game, and it is best-remembered for the gutty performance of Damon Bailey, who played through stomach cramps and vomiting to lead IU to the win. Bailey was on the cover of Sports Illustrated following the win, and a quote from the accompanying SI story provides a great summary of the atmosphere that day:

The somber Indiana fans [IU had lost the season opener to Butler] who made up about half the crowd of 38,197 at the dome the next day seemed to agree with that assessment. They sat quietly as the Kentucky faithful jeered the Hoosiers during warmups, waving an array of signs: CBS (CATS BY SIXTY)...INDIANA WHOSTERS...WHICH WAY TO BUTLER?

To everyone's surprise, however, Indiana bolted to a 9-2 lead that got the fans—Knight included—all revved up. "That's about as excited as I've been about basketball for a long time," said Knight later. "I became a fan for five or six minutes."

Anyone who recalls Knight or has seen, for example, his sedate reaction to winning the 1987 NCAA title, knows that he wasn't one for showing a lot of excitement (well, positive excitement, I guess) on the court, but one of my distinct memories was of seeing Knight off the bench, clapping and pumping his fist and greeting the players when they came to the bench at the first timeout. Great game, and I hope we can see a repeat of it on Saturday.

Of course, I'm intentionally hitting the high points, but so be it. There are plenty of other weeks to talk about the 80-41 beatdown in 2003; Mike Davis's "I can't handle this job" moment in 2000 (Myles Brand wasn't listening); Davis slapping his head and drawing two technicals in 2002, all over a good no-call; the overtime collapse in 1998; Will Gladness airballing a layup in 1997; and, for fans before my time, the heartbreak to end all heartbreaks, the loss in the 1975 regional final. For now, the focus will be on the great IU moments. A few other encouraging tidbits:

  • IU has a 10-5 record against Kentucky in Bloomington, including 5-1 in the last 6 games played there and 8-4 at Assembly Hall.
  • Of the 55 games between IU and UK, 48 have been played in December, but only one on December 10, and that was the aforementioned 2005 game, which, at 26 points, accounted for IU's largest margin of victory in the history of the series.

I don't know what is going to happen, but let's hope that the Hoosiers can add another fun chapter to this excellent series.

UPDATE: Be sure to check out Glenn Logan's history post from the UK perspective over at Sea of Blue, SB Nation's excellent Kentucky site. His has the advantage of Youtube clips, albeit of IU's low moments. It made me wish I had found a picture of IU fans waving Emery envelopes at UK in the late 1980s. This line made me chuckle: "This rivalry has many great story lines, most of them involving major upsets by both teams, two legendary and outspoken coaches, and one serial NCAA violator...." No, there have been many serial NCAA violators in this series. Just one on the IU side. Still, it's worth reading, and I appreciate the civility of the UK fans who have come over this week.