By game's end the mood had shifted in the Hoosier Dome. The Kentucky fans glumly folded their signs and shut their mouths. The Indiana fans, on the other hand, were celebrating as if the Hoosiers were on the way to the NCAA title. But this could be just a momentary turnaround. Kentucky, despite the loss, still probably has a far better chance than Indiana of making it to the Final Four in Charlotte, even though Pitino admitted last week that he was stunned by the way Arkansas, which figured to become the third No. 1 team of this young season, had dominated Missouri earlier in the week in a 120-68 win. "As a coach," Pitino said, "I'm glad to give Arkansas the Number One ranking."
As for Indiana, the Hoosiers might be able to hang around the Top 25 throughout the season despite the fact that the team's collection of talent is far from imposing. The players with the most energy and athleticism are woefully short of experience and poise. The players with the most experience and poise are woefully inconsistent. Each time the Hoosiers play, Knight can't be sure whether he's going to see the team that lost to Butler or the one that knocked off Kentucky.
Much depends on Bailey. As Knight said after the game, "I've never seen Bailey better, but whether he's able to sustain it is the next question." Bailey, in a rare display of excitement, said he was ready for the challenge, ready to wind up his Hoosier career in a positive way, ready for whatever might confront him at the end of a strange college odyssey that has kept an entire state in its thrall.
"In Coach Knight's system," Bailey said, "you can be an average player and succeed. You don't have to be quick, you don't have to be able to jump over the backboard, you don't have to be a great shooter. But you have to give the effort. We're capable of playing with anybody in the country if we do the things Coach wants us to do. If we don't, we'll get beat by Butler. Today we weren't worried about stopping Travis Ford or Rodrick Rhodes or Kentucky's fast break. We just wanted to play hard and find an Indiana team that's fun to watch again."
He smiled an innocent smile. Even after all these years Bailey still doesn't seem to understand that a lot of Hoosier fans want far more than competence from him. His performance against Kentucky is what they've been hoping for every game for more than three seasons—and what they'll probably demand every time he steps on the floor from now on. If Bailey's lucky, perhaps he can be as consistently good as the ribs as Pa & Ma's, which would suit his insatiable coach just fine.