LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Freshman Marquis Teague finally feels in step with Kentucky coach John Calipari’s offense.
Now, he’s taking the Wildcats to the South Regional semifinals in Atlanta, and maybe a lot farther than that.
Teague scored a career-high 24 points and top seed Kentucky put together another complete performance with a dominating second-half run in an 87-71 victory over Iowa State in the third round of the NCAA tournament on Saturday night.
“I didn’t really care about scoring points. I just wanted to get my teammates involved and do whatever I needed to do to help my team win,” said Teague, who added seven assists. “I was just trying to push the ball in transition and take whatever play they were going to give me. They gave me the layup a lot tonight.”
Freshman Anthony Davis had 15 points and 12 rebounds, senior Darius Miller added 19 points and Doron Lamb finished with 16. The Wildcats (34-2) used a 20-2 burst to break away from a tie and next will face fourth-seeded Indiana on Friday.
Teague’s role as point guard has been one of the hardest on a team full of NBA talent. He’s had to learn the position under Calipari and acknowledged earlier this year he worried so much about it he has had sleepless nights.
“I just was thinking too much. Trying to force shots up sometimes instead of the making the easy play,” Teague said. “Coming out of high school I scored a lot of points, and that’s what I was used to doing. But playing with guys like I’m playing with, you don’t need to do that.”
Not with a team that has this many playmakers.
Kentucky now gets another crack at the Hoosiers, who beat them on a last-second 3-pointer by Christian Watford in December when the young ‘Cats committed a defensive lapse that cost them on the final play.
“That was a rough day for us. Hate to lose any game but the way we lost, that just made it that much worse. Had to move on past that day,” Teague said. “Guess we got ‘em again. We just have to come out and play our hardest. We’re not talking revenge or anything.”
Among the players who have improved the most since then is Teague, often overshadowed and compared to Calipari’s former floor leaders at Kentucky and Memphis, including John Wall, Brandon Knight, Derrick Rose and Tyreke Evans.
“I brought him here because when I watched him play, I absolutely loved his game. He is a tough — I call him a pitbull,” Calipari said. “Great athleticism, but a really smart floor game. Now, for us, he could score more, but why would you score more on this team as a point guard? But today, they really left him. I told him, look, you’ve got to keep people honest.”
So when Teague and Calipari talked before a first-half timeout, the coach was impressed Teague recognized the defense was rolling off him, allowing him to cut to the basket.
“I told him you just created two unbelievable shots for your teammates. Now, just keep playing,” Calipari said. “They were all focused.”
Royce White, who almost transferred to Kentucky before settling in Ames, scored 23 points and had nine rebounds before fouling out with 4:32 left for Iowa State (23-11), which beat defending national champion Connecticut on Thursday night.
“We’ve got nothing to hang our head about. We got beat by the No. 1 overall seed that played an incredible game,” Cyclones coach Fred Hoiberg said. “We’re going to walk out of Lexington, I’m sorry, where are we? Louisville, with our head held high.”
The Cyclones couldn’t contend with Kentucky’s overwhelming offense and smothering defense after rallying from a 12-point halftime deficit to 42-all with 16:23 left.
Teague and Kentucky turned up the pressure with their big run.
Terrence Jones hit a basket, Miller added another and Jones flipped an alley-oop to Davis. After two free throws by Scott Christopherson, the Wildcats ran off 14 straight points that made it 62-42.
Jones finished with eight points and 11 rebounds as Kentucky led by as many as 24 with 6:27 left while shooting 55.4 percent from the field on the night.
Chris Allen scored 16 points and Christopherson finished with 15 for the Cyclones, who struggled from 3-point range.
“Our biggest strength is the 3-point shot, and we go 3 for 22,” Hoiberg said. “We’re not going to win very many games when we shoot the ball like that.”
In this tournament, Kentucky has remained the mark of consistency so far and made the most of its two games in its own state, just 75 miles from campus. Seemingly every member of Big Blue Nation attended, including actress Ashley Judd, who was stationed just behind the bench with Calipari’s family.
Teague and the rest of the Wildcats made sure the show was worth it.
“That’s about as good as we can play,” Calipari said. “I want them to just look at this and be happy, but not satisfied. Let’s just keep stepping.”
At Louisville, Ky.
The KFC Yum! Center
Kentucky 87, Iowa St. 71
IOWA ST. (23-11)
Ejim 1-5 1-4 4, White 9-12 5-9 23, Babb 0-2 0-0 0, Allen 6-19 3-3 16, Christopherson 5-11 4-4 15, Palo 1-2 2-2 4, Booker 0-3 0-0 0, Gibson 3-4 3-3 9, McGee 0-3 0-0 0. Totals 25-61 18-25 71.
Jones 3-9 2-4 8, Kidd-Gilchrist 1-4 0-0 2, Davis 4-9 7-9 15, Lamb 5-8 1-2 16, Teague 10-14 3-5 24, Miller 7-11 2-2 19, Wiltjer 1-1 0-0 3. Totals 31-56 15-22 87.
Halftime — Kentucky 38-27. Three-point goals — Iowa St. 3-22 (Ejim 1-2, Christopherson 1-4, Allen 1-10, Booker 0-1, Babb 0-2, McGee 0-3), Kentucky 10-20 (Lamb 5-7, Miller 3-6, Wiltjer 1-1, Teague 1-3, Davis 0-1, Jones 0-1, Kidd-Gilchrist 0-1). Fouled out — Jones, Palo, White. Rebounds — Iowa St. 31 (Ejim, White 9), Kentucky 40 (Davis 12). Assists — Iowa St. 7 (White 4), Kentucky 19 (Teague 7). Total fouls — Iowa St. 17, Kentucky 19. Technicals — Iowa St. Bench, Jones. A — 21,757.