LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Desperate though this premise may be, Kentucky freshman point guard Marquis Teague is supposed to be the top-ranked Wildcats’ weakest link.
For proof, Teague is the only starter who doesn’t average scoring in double figures (9.5 ppg), he’d turned it over three or more times in seven of UK’s last 11 games heading into Saturday’s NCAA tournament South Regional contest against Iowa State, and he actually went scoreless in Big Blue’s SEC tournament-final loss to Vanderbilt.
And all of this led Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg to gamble that Teague could not end the Cyclones’ season.
“You have to take away something from them,” he said. “We tried to take away the inside game.”
They also tried to take away UK’s jump shooters: Doron Lamb and sixth man Darius Miller. But not Teague. Not the rookie.
So what did Teague do in the Wildcats’ 87-71 victory over the Cyclones inside the KFC Yum! Center?
He scored a career-high 24 points, handed out a game-high seven assists and committed just two turnovers in 36 huge minutes.
Said Hoiberg afterward: “Teague was the difference maker. He was able to get through us. He is extremely fast with the ball.”
Kentucky was able to get through the first two rounds of this tournament because, in head coach John Calipari’s words, “I’ve got good players, I’ve got a good team.”
How good ultimately will be determined by whether this team brings home UK’s first national championship in 14 years and its eighth total. That’s the Kentucky mindset, much as it is Alabama’s mindset on the football field.
It’s all or nothing. Every year. All ... or ... nothing.
And despite Teague’s individual brilliance against the Cyclones, it briefly appeared in Saturday’s second half as if this might become the biggest nothing of Cal’s three seasons in the Bluegrass.
Up 38-27 at intermission, the Cats watched Iowa State forge a 42-all tie, mostly on the massive shoulders of Royce White, who’s officially a redshirt sophomore but looks like a 30-year-old defensive end for the New York football Giants with his 6-foot-8, 270-pound frame, full beard and wise, old eyes.
It also didn’t hurt that he seemed to have all those youthful Big Blue defenders on a string for much of Saturday’s game against the Wildcats. He scored the first points of the game on a wicked inside spin against UK’s Terrence Jones. He had 10 points, three rebounds, two assists and two steals at halftime.
He was Jeremy Lin when Jeremy Lin was still good.
So it’s 42-all, Calipari’s burned two timeouts, and he’s about to have to sit his best shooter, Lamb, who had picked up his fourth foul. Even UK super fan Ashley Judd looked a wee bit nervous.
But then Jones threw down a dunk, Teague began finding Miller for wide-open 3-pointers and Kentucky was suddenly ahead by 16, then 20, then 24 — shredding any Iowa State hope of a victory.
“We just lost to the No. 1 [overall] seed that played an unbelievable basketball game,” Hoiberg said. “They’re just really, really good.”
How good will again be tested Friday night in the Georgia Dome in the Sweet 16. Having survived Virginia Commonwealth on Saturday, Indiana now turns its attention to sweeping Kentucky this year.
Or haven’t you seen the ads on ESPN the past six weeks trumpeting that last-second triumph on IU’s home court in December in much the same way UK fans always will have to be reminded of Christian Laettner’s shot this time of year?
Not that Teague — an Indianapolis native — is openly salivating to tear into the Hoosiers, even if Cal calls his point guard “a pit bull.”
“That was a rough day,” he said. “But we’ve had to move past that. We’re not really saying anything about revenge or anything like that. We’re just going to come out and play like we would any other game.”
Said Cal of his point guard: “He can score, but he doesn’t have to on this team.”
At least he didn’t until Saturday night. That when he did he was the difference maker makes it that much harder for UK’s opponents going forward through March.
Mark Wiedmer started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press on Valentine’s Day of 1983. At the time, he had to get an advance from his boss to buy a Valentine gift for his wife. Mark was hired as a graphic artist but quickly moved to sports, where he oversaw prep football for a time, won the “Pick’ em” box in 1985 and took over the UTC basketball beat the following year. By 1990, he was ...