Hoosiers ride hot Rod

Hoosiers ride hot Rod

Wilmont gets late reprieve from fifth foul, helps IU put away Connecticut

by Chris Korman, H-T sports writer

January 21, 2007

Indiana’s D.J. White holds his jersey to indicate to official Ed Corbett that a foul should have been called on him and not on Rod Wilmont with 2:10 left in Saturday’s game against Connecticut. The foul, which would have been Wilmont’s fifth, was changed to be on White. Wilmont then scored the Hoosiers’ next five points to help them beat the Huskies, 77-73. Chris Howell | Hoosier Times
From the Jan. 21, 2007 Bloomington Herald-Times

HARTFORD, Conn. – Rod Wilmont stood near Connecticut’s free throw line, suddenly feeling alone in a full arena.

The announcer called his name, said that foul was his fifth, and the fans at the Hartford Civic Center burst into applause.

After a second, Wilmont burst into a sprint toward the official standing near nonplussed Indiana coach Kelvin Sampson.

Wilmont hadn’t been anywhere near the play when the foul occurred.

The officials figured that out and assigned the foul to D.J. White.

Wilmont, reborn, hit a deep 3-pointer and then a pull-up jumper from near the free throw line, a shot from which Connecticut could not recover.

Finally, Indiana played with poise in the last four minutes of a close game on the road, this time beating talented but young Connecticut 77-73.

Freshman Armon Bassett hit four foul shots – the Hoosiers (14-4) were 20-of-21 from the free-throw line – in the last 21 seconds to secure the win.

Proof that Indiana learned from its difficult road schedule to date was easy to find. The 3-pointer that Wilmont hit to make it 69-68 came off a very similar inbounds play to the one Indiana ran late against Kentucky.

In that game, a 59-54 Indiana loss, Wilmont got the ball and hesitated too long. This time, he just shot.

“Coach just drew up a play called ‘turn-down’ and we ran it and executed it perfectly,” Wilmont said. “My job was just to knock it down.”

Then Stanley Robinson, the 6-foot-9 freshman forward who gave Indiana fits all day and finished with 21 points, controlled the ball down low with Mike White all over him and still hit a layup.

Wilmont, not known for his ability off the dribble, found himself at the top of the key, smothered by gritty guard Jerome Dyson.

Wilmont, the player Sampson praised for being not afraid just days ago, started toward the net. Dyson looked to all 16,294 hopeful pairs of eyes in the arena to be in perfect position for a steal.

He fell. Wilmont pulled up for a jumper.

Indiana found a way to win despite being badly outplayed in the paint. Connecticut scored 46 points there compared to Indiana’s 20, and had 21 second chance points while holding Indiana to zero. It won despite entering the half bedraggled following a furious 20-5 run by Connecticut (13-5).

“I think today was a case of a team bending but maybe not breaking,” Sampson said.

The Hoosiers continued showing an uncanny ability to make adjustments. This one went entirely against everything Sampson has worked so hard to get them to do: they stopped rebounding.

Sensing Connecticut’s ability to push the ball up the floor, Sampson urged his team to concentrate on getting back on defense. As a result, one Connecticut player, Jeff Adrien, had more offensive rebounds (9) than the entire Indiana team (6).

Also as a result, Connecticut’s all freshmen and sophomore team had to slow up and make decisions in the half-court offense.

Even with the game slowed down Indiana had the advantage due to matchups. Sampson started Mike White and played him 32 minutes; he was averaging eight.

White had to try to guard Adrien, the Charles Barkley-like forward who finished with 15 points and 12 rebounds.

It eventually fell to Joey Shaw – who couldn’t get on the floor against Penn State because Sampson didn’t think he was ready to play on the road – to guard the sensational Robinson.

Indiana collapsed on defense and D.J. White – who had three blocks – was a constant presence in the middle. Connecticut never even tried to open anything up with outside shots, taking just five 3-pointers.

But what ultimately hurt the Huskies was the 11 points they left at the free throw line. They hit just 17-of-28 shots from the line, despite the fact that several of them came to the arena early for an hour-long free-throw shooting session.

“We missed a ton of foul shots at crucial times, didn’t make a couple of big stops, they had a couple of easy hoops in the last two minutes and that was the game,” Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun said. “They made foul shots and we didn’t.”

Indiana exploited UConn’s youth early in the game. It ran the same play – using multiple screens to create an open 3-pointer from the right wing – and hit five 3-pointers from the same spot on the way to a 26-12 lead.

D.J. White scored 17 of his 21 points in the first half, playing through double teams and around the outstretched arms of 7-3 center Hasheem Thabeet.

In the second half, Connecticut began pushing White out of the paint so that he couldn’t turn and shoot quickly. He responded by kicking the ball out for three assists.

Sampson shrugged off the suggestion that this win represented a “signature” win for the program. He did acknowledge that it represented a new level of fortitude for his team, which has won its last five games.

“You can play teams for as long as you want and blow them out,” Sampson said. “But at some point you have to find out who you are. And you can’t find out who you are until you get in these tight situations.”