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Indiana, Kentucky need to get back together after NCAA tournament spectacle

Saturday's meeting was the 56th between Kentucky and Indiana but the first since the 2012 NCAA tournament. They haven't met in the regular season since 2011. Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

DES MOINES, Iowa -- Yeah, it was worth the wait. But can we keep it to less than four years before Kentucky and Indiana meet again?

The border rivals and once-regular foes played a regional-caliber contest in the round of 32 Saturday at Wells Fargo Arena. The fifth-seeded Hoosiers leaned on their freshmen -- and, of course, senior do-it-all point guard Yogi Ferrell -- during a key stretch of the second half to beat the Wildcats 73-67 and advance to next week's East Regional semifinal in Philadelphia.

In the aftermath, they traded compliments.

"That team was every bit as good as we thought they were," IU coach Tom Crean said.

Kentucky coach John Calipari, who lathered Crean with praise at multiple moments this week, said the Hoosiers fought hard and did what was necessary, when it was necessary.

"They deserved to win this game," Calipari said. "We did not play our best, but let me say this, maybe it’s because of them."

We interrupt this lovefest to remind you that before Saturday, Kentucky and Indiana most recently played in 2012, a Sweet 16 victory for the Wildcats in Atlanta.

Why so long? because these power programs can't agree on an arrangement or venue to extend the rivalry. The most recent of their 51 regular-season games came in 2011, an Indiana win at home.

As a result, Ferrell, a bona fide IU great, waited until what could have been the last game of his career to face the Wildcats in the middle of Iowa in the NCAA tournament.

That's a shame.

"We should play everybody?" Calipari lamented Friday. "Why don't we all play everybody and we'll just do a round robin between [the blue-blooded programs], and that will be our nonconference schedule? We'll play each other. I'll go for it if everybody else does.

"Well, I'll have my hand up by myself."

Calipari's comments, dripping with sarcasm, fail to account for the history between Indiana and Kentucky. No one is asking the Wildcats to play at Arizona and North Carolina on back-to-back nights.

It fails to account for the connections in recruiting. Calipari last year brought Thomas Bryant to campus in Lexington on a visit and spent considerable time in pursuit of the 6-foot-10 center, who signed with Hoosiers. Bryant improved throughout his first season in Bloomington.

And Saturday, on the biggest stage yet, Bryant scored 19 points in 24 minutes, broke the last tie at 50 with a three-point play and hit important free throws in the late stages.

"His family should be proud of how much better he's gotten," Calipari said.

Players like Bryant and Kentucky freshman Jamal Murray don't stay in college long enough today to warrant a four-year wait between matchups like this.

Calipari said after the game that he was "sick" for his guys.

"I feel so bad," the seventh-year coach said.

In nearly the same breath, he mentioned that he has perhaps his best class of newcomers coming for next season.

"I'm going to have a brand-new team again next year," Calipari said. "Surprise."

And unless that team tangles with Indiana in March, its players probably won't experience the fire of what ought to rank as one of college basketball's best rivalries.

Who cares about the side issues involved? Just play the game again.

"I don't think there is any door closed that couldn't be opened again," Crean said on the subject this week.

Calipari said Saturday that the Hoosiers could find a spot on the Kentucky schedule if Indiana agreed to play the game in Indianapolis. That should be workable. Because Saturday was too much fun to do only once every four years in March.

Both sets of fans were passionate and involved. The coaches like each other.

Their teams appear to match up well as Crean continues to build Indiana back into a power. This victory secured a third trip to the Sweet 16 in five years after a nine-season drought for the Hoosiers.

Most notably, from before the tip, the game Saturday felt as if it belonged in a regional. Or, better yet, in December.