Over the next few days, I will be sharing content from our sister paper in Bloomington on Kentucky’s game against Indiana Friday night at the Georgia Dome. Enjoy.
By Dustin Dopirak
PORTLAND, Ore. — Christian Watford can see it coming already. A solid week’s worth of questions asking him to recall and recount his actions, thoughts and emotions before, during and after a shot he hit three months ago.
“I’m sure I’ll be hearing about it all week,” Watford said in the Indiana lockerroom about half an hour after the Hoosiers’ 63-61 win over Virginia Commonwealth Saturday night to advance to the NCAA Tournament’s South Regional semifinal, IU’s first Sweet 16 berth since 2002.
The junior forward has never really stopped hearing about his 3-pointer at the buzzer to beat No. 1 Kentucky on Dec. 10. Any interview he does outside the Indiana press goes in that direction at some point — not surprising considering it was the signature moment of college basketball’s regular season and caused perhaps the most epic court-storming in the history of the game. Even if people don’t ask about it, an ESPN commercial has been running for the past two months that’s been playing the shot over and over again — while advertising all of the various devices on which a consumer could’ve watched that game.
And now the No. 4 seed Hoosiers are set for a rematch with the top-seeded Wildcats on Friday in Atlanta, that shot will be the centerpiece of a week-long hype fest. It was already beginning on Saturday night, when SportsCenter was showing the shot immediately after highlights of Indiana’s and Kentucky’s third-round rounds.
Though much has transpired for both teams since that game, it was an important reason both made it to this point.
For Indiana, it was a game that more than any other proved it finally belonged in such games and helped give the Hoosiers the confidence that carried them to two other wins over top 5 teams and 27 wins so far.
For the ultra-talented but very young Kentucky squad, it was a game that served as a reminder of their mortality and showed them they could be beaten if they weren’t playing at their highest level. In a way, it also helped remove the pressure of playing for a perfect season, as the Wildcats didn’t lose again until falling in the SEC tournament championship game last week.
Both teams have made certain that the game continues to be discussed even months later. Kentucky players have called Watford’s 3-pointer a “lucky shot,” and Kentucky coach John Calipari thanked ESPN for using the shot on their commercials because he says it keeps his team motivated. Indiana coach Tom Crean, who considers Calipari a close friend, has used his Twitter account and his radio show to take jabs at the Wildcats. In his radio show, he said the Hoosiers didn’t even play their best game that day, and that he was disappointed that Indiana let the Wildcats back in the game after they had a 10-point lead. And he’s made it quite clear that he enjoys watching that commercial.
“It goes in every time,” Crean said during his post-game press conference Saturday night. “Every time, it never changes. He tweeted something, and I tweeted something. The value that that brings our university, brings our fan base, to have that out there, it’s fantastic. But it goes in every time. There’s still a hand up in front of him. There’s still a great pass from Verdell (Jones), there’s still a great screen from Cody Zeller. Every time, it goes in.”
Kentucky’s players, of course, are sick of watching it go in, and they already made it clear on Saturday night that they are desperately seeking revenge.
“I hate that commercial,” freshman Michael Kidd-Gilchrist told USA Today. “I hate that commercial. . We’re going to get them back.”
On Friday night, they will have a chance to do that, but they and every other college basketball fan will have to watch Watford hit that 3-pointer from the left elbow a lot between now and then.