Hoosiers making Assembly Hall a hard place to play

Hoosiers making Assembly Hall a hard place to play

By Doug Wilson, H-T sports editor

February 1, 2007

Indiana basketball was back in all its raucous intensity Wednesday night at Assembly Hall.

In upsetting No. 2 Wisconsin, the Hoosiers thrust themselves into the thick of the race for the Big Ten championship.

And they took a crucial step toward rebuilding the Hoosier nation. After years of turmoil among Indiana basketball fans, this team is creating a level of enthusiasm I haven’t seen since the Final Four run five years ago.

You could see that as the crowd started chanting Kelvin Sampson’s name with 12 minutes left in the game.

You could see it as hundreds of IU students poured out of the stands for a post-game celebration that filled the entire court.

This was the biggest win so far for Sampson in his first year as coach at Indiana.

“I thought this was a tremendous college basketball game,” Sampson said afterward. “The crowd was tremendous.”

The crowd at Assembly Hall has shifted into its highest gear a couple of times before in the past two seasons, for games against North Carolina and Duke, but both times the Hoosiers wrecked the moment by losing.

The Wisconsin game was one where Indiana needed to win to continue to build confidence among its players and its fans.

IU students, many of whom have been showing up late for recent games, got to Assembly Hall before tip-off for this big matchup. Throughout the game, they were a factor.

In the second half, the student sections looked like a rolling tide of red and white. Students jumped up and down, screaming and shaking, as A.J. Ratliff nailed the game’s decisive shots.

Even the so-called “old people” at Assembly Hall were on their feet much of the second half.

Ratliff is claustrophobic, so he said the mob that rushed onto the court after the game scared him a bit, but he loved it anyway.

“I don’t think we’ve beaten a Top 3 program since I’ve been here, so that’s huge for us,” Ratliff said.

Indiana’s victory stretched its home winning streak to 14 games, including a 12-0 home record this season.

“You have to remember what Indiana has been doing here,” Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan said. “This is going to be a tough place for some other people to come in here.”

“We have the best fans in the country,” Indiana junior D.J. White said. “They bring out the best in us.”

The post-game celebration on the court continued in the Indiana locker room after the players left the court.

Sampson said that while there’s nothing final about the win because the journey of his first Indiana team is ongoing, it was still a special victory for his players.

“I’m just happy for them,” he said. “The locker room, the looks on their faces, that’s why you coach.”

The win put Indiana in third place in the conference standings at 6-2 halfway through its Big Ten slate, trailing first-place Wisconsin (7-1) and second-place Ohio State (6-1) by just a game in the loss column.

The Hoosiers, with three regular season games left at home and five on the road, hold the advantage of not having to play Wisconsin or Ohio State again before the Big Ten Tournament.

The last time Indiana won a big game, 12 days ago at Connecticut, the Hoosiers came back three days later with a lethargic effort at Illinois and lost a game they should have won.

If not for that slip, Indiana would be tied for the Big Ten lead right now.

What the Hoosiers need to do to maintain their spot close to the conference leaders is avoid a letdown Saturday at Iowa. Coming off an emotional win and having already defeated Iowa once, this is a dangerous game for Indiana.

The Hawkeyes (12-10, 4-4) are 3-1 at home during Big Ten play and have won the last two times Indiana has traveled to Iowa City.

Iowa’s only Big Ten loss at home came in a close game Saturday that Wisconsin ultimately pulled out 57-46.