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WHEN JOHN CALIPARI SHOOK HANDS WITH IOWA STATE coach Fred Hoiberg after the final horn of the game that sent Kentucky to the Sweet 16, Calipari made a telling statement. "I said that's about as good as we can play," recalled the Wildcats' coach. Given the immensity of the talent on Kentucky's roster, that's really saying something. But after seven heavenly minutes that led to an 87--71 win, Calipari's assessment seemed apt.
For a while—a brief while—the eighth-seeded Cyclones actually played as if they had a chance to upset the Wildcats, weathering several Kentucky runs and tying the score at 42 on a Scott Christopherson layup with 16:28 remaining.
Then Kentucky flipped the switch.
For the next seven minutes the Wildcats roared with a ferocity no current college team can match. Anthony Davis blocked shots and slammed home a lob. Darius Miller and Marquis Teague buried jumpers. Terrence Jones crashed the boards. Everyone smothered Iowa State's offense. Hoiberg even drew a technical foul—the first of his coaching career—when he argued a no-call in an attempt to alter momentum and stop the bleeding. It didn't work. Teague's jumper with 9:39 remaining put Kentucky up 64--46 and erased any hope for Iowa State.
Two minutes later, after Doron Lamb's three-pointer stretched the lead to 20, the Cyclones looked like zombies as they lumbered to their bench for a TV timeout. "They caught fire," Iowa State guard Chris Allen said afterward. That didn't happen by chance. When a team defends, rebounds and passes the way Kentucky did during that stretch, shots fall. "The rim," Davis said, "gets very big for you."
It must have seemed enormous for Teague, who made 10 of 14 shots and led the Wildcats with a career-high 24 points. Even better, that scoring didn't keep him from his primary job. Teague dished out seven assists and committed only two turnovers. "I was just trying to push the ball in transition and take whatever play they gave me," Teague said. "They gave me the layup a lot. Also, I was able to kick out to open players like Doron and Darius, and they knocked down a lot of shots."
Forward Royce White led Iowa State with 23 points and nine rebounds. That was part of Kentucky's plan. The Wildcats knew the 6' 8", 270-pound White would be difficult to stop, so they decided to let White try to beat them by himself. "We were just trying to take everyone else out of it," Miller said.
Two days earlier in their NCAA opener the Wildcats had taken 16th-seeded Western Kentucky out of it early, building a 45--26 halftime lead and stretching the margin to 32 in the second half on the way to an 81--66 win.
As March progresses, Calipari knows there is no guarantee Kentucky can duplicate the level it reached in putting away the upstart Cyclones. His job, as the Wildcats prepare for a rematch with an Indiana team that beat Kentucky on a last-second shot in December, will be to ensure that his players haven't peaked. Said Calipari, "I want them to just look at this and be happy but not satisfied."