INDIANAPOLIS -- Since his team lost at home to Pittsburgh in the preseason National Invitation Tournament, Kentucky basketball coach Rick Pitino has been trying to convince anyone who cared to listen that the 14th-ranked Wildcats were overrated and not quite the 22-9 overachievers they were last year.
It worked for a while, but won't anymore. When Indiana guard Greg Graham's 21-footer hit the back rim with two seconds remaining yesterday at the Hoosier Dome, Kentucky had secured a 76-74 victory over the ninth-ranked Hoosiers. And Pitino had to find a new approach to take with his team.
"Mentally, we have to convince them that they're not that good," he said of his players. "We've got to stay hungry."
Hunger was part of Kentucky's most significant victory in Pitino's first three seasons. The Wildcats had lost the past three times to their state-border rivals, and they wanted to prove that the early-season upset by the Panthers was not indicative of what they could do.
But Kentucky had learned from its loss to Pittsburgh that it could not gear an offense around the three-point shot. Against the Hoosiers, the Wildcats found a nice balance between the long-distance shooting of senior Deron Feldhaus and the powerful inside play of sophomore Jamal Mashburn.
"Pitt was a great lesson for us," said Feldhaus, a 6-foot-7 forward. "We can't just shoot threes. We've got a great inside player in Mashburn, and if they don't double up on him inside, we've got to get him the ball."
Although Feldhaus shot eight three-point shots, making five and finished with 19 points off the bench, it was Mashburn who made a big difference down the stretch. A pair of three-point plays helped Kentucky (3-1) build its lead to 72-62 with a little more than five minutes left. Mashburn finished with 21 points and eight rebounds.
But a bad pass by Mashburn in the final minute nearly cost Kentucky dearly. Trying to find point guard Sean Woods inside, Mashburn's pass bounced off Woods' knee. After a jump ball, possession went to Kentucky with a little more than 20 seconds remaining. Timeout, Indiana.
"Our first option was to get it inside to [Calbert] Cheaney," said Indiana coach Bob Knight, whose team lost for the second time in four games. "Our second option was to get a good outside shot. I thought it was going in. He [Graham] had a good stroke."