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March 23, 2012
ATLANTA - They don't know each other all that much, Cody Zeller and Anthony Davis.
They faced each other in one marquee AAU matchup - Zeller won that one - and obviously once previous in college, Indiana knocking off No. 1 Kentucky in December.
But the two freshmen centers - both five-star recruits - have been major keys to their respective teams reaching tonight's Sweet Sixteen game at the Georgia Dome.
Davis has had 18 double-doubles on the season, most recently coming up with 15 points and 12 rebounds in Kentucky's 87-17 win over Iowa State in the round of 32.
Both Zeller and Davis lead their teams in scoring and rebounding, Zeller averaging 15.5 points and 6.5 rebounds for 16th-ranked Indiana (27-8) and Davis 14.3 points and 10.1 rebounds for No. 1-ranked Kentucky (34-2).
"Cody is a great player," said Kentucky guard Marquis Teague, who grew up in Indianapolis and played with Zeller on the Indiana All-Star team. "He's dominant down there in the post. He had a great season. It should be a great matchup, him and Anthony. They're both great freshmen and great big men."
Davis is a different player from the on the Hoosiers faced in December.
He had just six points on 3-for-4 shooting while being limited to 24 minutes due to foul trouble. That was Kentucky's ninth game of the season and to that point, Davis had scored more than 15 points only once. Since then, he's scored more than 15 points 11 times.
Davis is even shooting from 3-point range, going 3-for-11 the past seven games.
"He's definitely improved a lot," Zeller said. "He was a great player in high school. In college, I think everyone's realized how good he is. He impacts the game so much on both ends. He's such a great shot blocker. That's why he'll be the No. 1 pick in the draft."
Davis won the Tisdale Award, the national player of the year as selected by the United States Basketball Writers Association.
He has set the Kentucky single-season blocked shot record with 166. The previous record was 83. His shot-blocking has been a big key to the Wildcats' defense. They've held opponents to 84 scoring droughts of three minutes or more and 17 of five minutes or more.
"They're both really big-time players for their teams, especially Anthony for our team" senior guard Darius Miller said. "He's one of the main weapons that we have. He does a great job on offense and defense. A lot of times he just dominates the game. I know Zeller does the same for their team. He was a big part of the game the last time we played them."
Zeller's arrival spearheaded IU's turnaround.
The Hoosiers were 12-20 last year and enter the Sweet Sixteen with 27 wins, the biggest one-year improvement in Indiana basketball history.
"He's a great player, dominating the post, shoots from mid-range. I just cant wait to go out there and see what happens in the game," Davis said.
"I just go out there and play. It doesn't matter who I'm facing. I just go out there and do what I have to do to make my team win. I'm pretty sure he's goign to do the same."
Zeller's individual play has been a factor but so has his presence. With essentially the same shooters, Indiana has gone from 162nd in the country in 3-point shooting (34.5 percent) to second (43.7 percent).
"It will be our team against Cody, and we'll have different guys guarding him. It's not always going to be Anthony on him," Kentucky coach John Calipari said. "He has had an impact on the game because he's so skilled offensively. And what Indiana does is they do great stuff in pack and rolls and cross screens and different things to flip him into the post and give him easy baskets. But he also flies up and down the court.
"If you're not flying up and down the court, he's going to beat you to a position and then play that mush basketball, get you under the basket. He's too long and active. He has an impact on the offense end and he has an impact on the game on the defensive end. He is a terrific player."