One Hall of a win

One Hall of a win

Hoosiers snap No. 2 Badgers’ 17-game winning streak, win 14th straight at Assembly Hall

by Chris Korman, H-T sports writer

February 1, 2007

Indiana’s D.J. White gets a piece of a shot by Wisconsin’s Alando Tucker midway through the second half of Wednesday’s game at Assembly Hall. White had 16 points as the Hoosiers knocked off the No. 2 Badgers, 71-66. Chris Howell | Herald-Times
From the Feb. 1, 2007 Bloomington Herald-Times

They were dripping sweat and embracing on the floor of Assembly Hall, celebrating a 71-66 win against the No. 2 Wisconsin Badgers.

Fists flew into the air.

Thousands of them.

These were not Indiana players. These were the fans, who had begun their avalanche to the court before the final buzzer even sounded on a win that served as the latest coronation of Kelvin Sampson as the beloved coach of the Hoosiers.

It was his name they chanted as they bounced up and down on that floor.

Indiana remained unbeaten at home, stopped Wisconsin’s 17-game win streak and pulled within a game of the Badgers for first place in the Big Ten.

“This is a great win for this group of kids for a lot of reasons,” Sampson said.

The program’s biggest win at home since Jan. 2001, when Indiana beat top-ranked Michigan State, was partly the work of timely shooting by injured and once-beleaguered A.J. Ratliff. He scored 18 of his 20 points in the second half, hitting 4-of-5 3-pointers he took.

But he was open only because of the way D.J. White played to begin the second half, when Sampson ordered his team to give the ball to its best player and its best player responded.

And then there were heady, veteran plays in the final minutes. None more important than the timeout Sampson called as Earl Calloway desperately hunched over a ball amid prying Wisconsin defenders.

Ratliff’s first timely basket tied the game at 40 with 14:51 remaining. Its significance came because of what it followed: seconds earlier, Ratliff had vainly tried to stop Alando Tucker, only to foul him and send him to the line.

Ratliff shook it off, then lost his defender on an inbound play, took what amounted to a handoff from the baseline and confidently hit a 3-pointer.

The Hoosiers went on an 11-0 run and took a 48-40 lead on another Ratliff 3-pointer.

Wisconsin, full of veteran poise and the precision coach Bo Ryan is known for, worked back into the game, tying it at 59 with a deep, no-conscience 3-pointer from Kammron Taylor with 4:53 left.

That type of shot so often defers upstarts like the Hoosiers from fighting against teams as resilient and confident as the Badgers.

Ratliff answered with a 3-pointer of his own from the left wing, and after Wisconsin missed a 3 took the ball at the top of the key, faked a shot and drove to the lane for easy basket.

Ratliff then hit a pair of free throws and a short jump shot – created by a nifty feed from Calloway to a cutting Rod Wilmont, who saw and hit an open Ratliff – as Wisconsin tried to come back.

Ratliff, who’s playing with the same sort of wrist injury Ohio State’s Greg Oden had, was forced into extended minutes because freshman guard Armon Bassett got into early foul trouble. Criticized by Sampson earlier this year for being soft and inconsistent, Ratliff shied from nothing Wednesday.

“I felt somebody had to step up and make plays,” he said. “D.J. made plays and my teammates were counting on me to make the shots. It was opening up and I had all the confidence in the world.”

Sampson’s clutch play came with Indiana ahead 70-66 and 47 seconds left. Calloway had the ball tipped out of his hands and had to plop to the ground to recover. He was mauled by a Wisconsin player but Sampson roared at the closest official and got a timeout before a jump ball could be called.

White scored nine of his 16 points in the first six and a half minutes of the second half. Up to that point Indiana had not gone to the free throw line and had attacked Wisconsin with only mostly mid-range and 3-point shots.

“Coming out of our locker room at half, I looked Rod Wilmont right in the eye and said, ‘We’re throwing it in to D.J. inside. Period,’ ” Sampson said. “That allowed us to play inside-out and eventually get open shots.”

Sampson said following the game that he’s not accustomed to fans rushing the floor when his team wins. At Oklahoma, the fans expected his teams to win.

That was one of the reasons this game meant so much to these players, Sampson said.

“I know where they started,” he said. “I know what they looked like in September and October. In the locker room (after the game), the looks on their faces, that’s why you coach.”

As the students took over the floor, Indiana’s players were lost in the crowd of faces beaming triumph. Both White and Ratliff called their fans the best in the country after the game.

Said White, his face uncharacteristically filled with wonder: “Assembly Hall was alive tonight.”