LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- When John Calipari shook hands with Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg after the final horn late Saturday night, the Kentucky coach made a telling statement. "I said that's about as good as we can play," Calipari said.
Given the immensity of the talent on Kentucky's roster, that isn't something Calipari says very often. But after seven minutes in heaven that led to an 87-71 win and a berth in the Sweet 16, Calipari's assessment seems appropriate.
Those who watched the game will agree with this next sentence, and those who only watched the highlights will disagree. Iowa State played for a moment as if it could beat Kentucky. It was a fleeting moment, sure, but the Cyclones weathered several Kentucky runs and managed to tie 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 -- in an attempt to alter momentum and stop the bleeding. It didn't work. Teague's jumper with 9:36 remaining put Kentucky up 64-46, and it erased any hope Iowa State once possessed.
Two minutes later, after Doron Lamb's 3-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. 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 played perhaps his best game of the season. The freshman point guard 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 of times tonight. Also, I was able to kick out to open players like Doron and Darius, and they knocked down a lot of shots." Said Miller of Teague: "He was the main part of us winning. Not only did he score a lot, he had a really good floor game. He got other guys involved, myself included. ... He hit us all in the right spots."
Sophomore forward Royce White led Iowa State with 23 points and nine rebounds. That was part of Kentucky's plan. The Wildcats knew the 6-foot-8, 270-pound White would be difficult to stop, so -- much as they did when they played Ohio State and Jared Sullinger in last year's tournament -- they decided to let White try to beat them by himself. "Make him have to beat us," Miller said. "We were just trying to take everyone else out of it."
Now, prepare for an onslaught of flashbacks to Dec. 10, when Indiana's Christian Watford buried a three as time expired to hand the Wildcats the first of their two losses. Kentucky will face Indiana on Friday in Atlanta in the Sweet 16. Saturday, the rematch questions came fast and furious. The Wildcats, still buzzing off their second-half outburst against Iowa State, did their best to temper excitement. "We've had to move on past that day," Teague said. "We had other games we had to play. So I guess we've got them again."
If Kentucky can find a way to bottle Saturday's second half, there will be no repeat of Dec. 10. But Calipari knows there is no guarantee Kentucky can duplicate the level it reached against Iowa State. His job this week will be to ensure his Wildcats haven't peaked. "They're efficient. They play defense. They play hard. They are skilled. They're all skilled," Calipari said. "I've just got to keep them in the right frame of mind. I want them to have fun playing. I want to keep challenging them. I want them to just look at this and be happy but not satisfied. Let's just keep stepping."