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IU-Kentucky rematch is official

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Tipoff: Indiana vs.Kentucky, NCAA tourney, Friday
RADIO: 1250-AM

Online: For more on Indiana athletics, follow Pete DiPrimio via Twitter at pdiprimio.

Teams will meet Friday in Atlanta

Sunday, March 18, 2012 - 2:07 am

PORTLAND, Ore. -- Are you ready for Indiana-Kentucky, Part II?

The rematch was clinched when top-seeded Kentucky (34-2) beat Iowa State 87-71 Saturday night. That came after fourth-seeded IU (27-8) had held off VCU 63-61.

The teams played at Assembly Hall in December. The Hoosiers won 73-72 on Christian Watford's buzzer-beating three-pointer.

The teams will play again in Friday's South Regional Sweet 16 matchup in Atlanta.

ESPN keeps showing replays of Watford's big shot. UK coach John Calipari has thanked ESPN for doing that because it angers his players and provides motivation.

IU coach Tom Crean also appreciates the highlight, but for a different reason.

“The shot goes in every time,” he said. “It never changes. And you know what? John tweeted me. I tweeted something back.

“The value that (shot and replay) brings to our university and our fan base is fantastic.

“The shot goes in every time. There's still a hand in front of Christian. There's still a great pass from Verdell (Jones). There's still a great screen from Cody Zeller.

“Every time it goes in.”

Sweet Sixteen return

IU is back in the Sweet Sixteen for the first time since 2002 and just the second time since 1995. It was vindication for Crean after 66 losses in the previous three seasons.

“Everybody is better for what they went through,” Crean said. “To have this happen, they've earned it. It's a great feeling to be around young men who really want to see each other be successful.

“Did we have days where we wondered if we could get to this point? I would say there was a lot of disappointment, but nobody ever got discouraged.

“These guys have come a long way. I'm proud of them.”

Zeller is impressive

IU forward Cody Zeller recorded his fifth double-double of the season when he had 16 points and 13 rebounds against VCU. In two South Regional games in Portland he averaged 15.0 points, 9.5 rebounds and 3.0 steals.

Zeller had five points and a rebound down the stretch to boost IU's rally. It scored the game's final seven points.

“I was struggling in the second half for a while,” Zeller said. “I tried to get some rebounds and make a difference in other ways. That got me going. I was ready when my number was called later in the game.”

That impressed VCU coach Shaka Smart.

“Cody Zeller had some huge plays down the stretch. That was a big difference.

“He was terrific at the end. We tried to do everything we could. He put our defense in a tough spot.”

IU cranks up defense

IU held VCU to just two baskets in the last 12 minutes. It stopped the Rams on 14 of their last 16 possessions.

“We thrive on our defense,” forward Derek Elston said. “We always say, get three stops in a row. That's what we have to do. For us to get huge stops and get rebounds, that makes us go. If our offense isn't going, make sure our defense still is.

“At the end we got the stops, we got to the hole and knocked down big shots.”