Resurrected Hoosiers get new life

Resurrected Hoosiers get new life

By Andy Graham, H-T Sports Writer

March 23, 1987

From the March 23, 1987 Bloomington Herald-Telephone

CINCINNATI – It was just the first Sunday of spring – and Easter a few weeks away – but Indiana’s basketball Hoosiers still managed to get that risen-from-the-dead feeling.

Indiana was seemingly entombed, last rites pending at Riverfront Coliseum as it entered the final few minutes of play against Louisiana State in the NCAA Midwest Regional title game.

LSU had built a 12-point lead midway into the second half and still led 75-68 heading into the final four minutes. Then came the resurrection and the light – in Joe Hillman’s eyes as an opportunity arose to make what IU’s Steve Alford called “the play of the game.”

The sequence ended by Hillman’s critical 3-point play began when LSU’s Jose Vargas nearly hit Hoosier forward Daryl Thomas in the head with a pass. Thomas managed to corral the ball and get it to Alford who took it rapidly downcourt.

Hillman – playing his only minute of the game – filled the left lane on the break and took a feed from Alford. Hillman went up over the Tigers’ Bernard Woodside, banked home the bucket and drew a blocking foul – Woodside’s fifth personal. After an LSU timeout, Hillman rattled home the ensuing free throw to cut the lead to 75-71 with 3:45 to play.

“A lot of it was just instinctual,” Hillman said after the 77-76 IU win. “I did know that I was open but also saw that they had one guy (the 6-6 Woodside) getting back and that he was a big guy. So, I knew I wanted to make sure the shot was high enough off the glass. Then, he ended up fouling me.

“The free throw, well, it’s just like practice out there for me.”

Hillman is also an outfielder for the Hoosier baseball team, which has started its season, but he has some more basketball practice time left as he and his basketball teammates have a Final Four date to keep Saturday with Nevada-Las Vegas at the New Orleans Superdome.

“I don’t mind,” said a grinning Hillman, “delaying baseball season another week at all.”

… Just as Hoosier junior guard Keith Smart, a Louisianan, doesn’t mind a previously unscheduled trip home.

“Just going to the Final Four, no matter where, is a great, great thing,” Smart said. “It’s not exactly home. I’m from Baton Rouge, a few miles up the road. But, it’s my home state and I certainly don’t mind heading down there.

“I’ve only been to the Superdome once. Now, I’m going back as one of the guests of honor.”

Smart paused, then reflected on his transformation to guest-of-honor status: from a 5-3 high school junior to a 5-6 senior who broke his wrist three times; to a 6-1 junior college star to a key Indiana Hoosier.

“A few years ago I was just a little guy in Louisiana and as far away from this as most everybody is,” Smart said softly. “Now, I’m at Indiana, with its super tradition and playing this type of game today for a chance to get where we’re going is one of the reasons I came to IU.”

Sophomore Rick Calloway did his homestanding act in the regional at Riverfront, capping it with the game-winning basket in front of his family and friends.

“Yeah, that made it even nicer,” Calloway said. “It feels great.”

“I feel great for Rick,” said IU center Dean Garrett, who did his share to make Calloway and so many others happy by hitting 8 of 10 shots from the field, scoring 17 points, hauling in a game-high 15 rebounds and block three shots. “I mean, what a scene for him. He’s at home. His folks and friends are here. Then he goes and hits that final hoop and we’re in the Final Four.

Calloway slipped inside for his decisive put-back of a Thomas miss at 0:06 and suddenly in the waning afternoon, it was MidKnight in LSU’s Cinderella story.

“We just took what was available and Daryl was the first option,” said Calloway who scored 21 points in Friday’s 88-82 semifinal win over Duke and joined Alford as IU’s representatives on the all-Regional team. “Daryl just curled into the middle and went up for the shot.

“My defensive guy went in on Daryl and I saw the opening and luckily the ball was off to my side. There was nobody over there to put a body on me because two guys went to Daryl. I just caught it and laid it in.”

Calloway enjoyed a personal resurrection during the game. That he would be on the floor at the end seemed in doubt when, with 14:31 to play, he crumpled as his right knee – operated in December and still occasionally testy – buckled painfully.

“Somebody had just hit my leg, came down on it,” Calloway said. “But, I had no doubts that I was coming back in. I went out into the hallway to run on it and loosen up.”

Calloway eased a lot of fears by returning to the fray at the 12:57 mark.

“I’m always worried whenever a teammate – or anybody – goes down,” said Alford. “Rick means a lot to this team, as he came back and showed.”

Alford showed why he’s a consensus all-American, especially during a four-minute stretch in the first half. LSU held a 28-22 lead after a Woodside steal and layup with 9:19 left before intermission. Then Alford:

* Hit a 3-pointer from the right wing at 8:30;

* Stole the ball from Vargas at 8:11;

* Assisted Calloway on a baseline jumper at 8:05;

* Drilled a 10-foot push shot from the baseline at 7:18;

* Touch-passed for a Calloway fast-break layup at 7:02 and;

* Hit another 3-pointer, this time from the left wing, for a 34-30 IU lead at 6:36.

It was, Alford said, all a matter of want-to for the Hoosiers:

“We’ve wanted this for a long time. We three seniors (Alford, Thomas and Todd Meier) and our underclassmen, too, have put in a lot of work for this. But – for Daryl and Todd and me – after getting within a game of the Final Four as freshmen, then having a disastrous sophomore year and then our early exit in the NCAA last season, we definitely wanted to get to this point.”

LSU made getting there excruciatingly difficult.

“They shot the ball like crazy,” Alford said. “They ere a great team through most of the last half of the season and played great throughout the tournament. When you have great athletes who are shooting the ball like that, you are awfully tough to play against.”

It got tougher for Alford to score in the second half. He got 18 of his 20 points before intermission.

“In the first half, they just had one guy one me most of the time,” said Alford, who finished with seven assists. “It was more than a box-and-one in the second half. There’d be the man on me and then another, usually Nikita Wilson and Oliver Brown, stepping out on me. They did a lot of switching and I always had two guys on me when I came off a screen or got the ball.

“But I don’t think teams can key on me that much anymore. I think that opened up things or our other guys. Once again, we had all five starters in double-figures. And, we got some tremendous help from the guys who came off the bench.”

From the March 23, 1987 Bloomington Herald-Telephone

Alford joined Smart and others in citing IU’s Big Ten opponents or helping the Hoosiers develop their seasoned depth – and their moxie in close games.

“The fact that we’ve played so many tough, close games is important for us,” Alford said. “I give a lot of credit to the other teams in our conference. They’re the ones that prepared us for this kind of thing. Every new game during the conference race seemed more important than the last.

“A couple of years ago, if we get behind like that, we have had five guys going in different directions. That hasn’t been the case this year. We’ve faced some big deficits and, even when we ended up losing, we were always in the game at the end.”

Garrett found LSU similar to one of IU’s toughest league foes:

“They reminded me of Iowa, almost exactly, in terms of their inside play. They’re both very physical and quick.”

It isn’t Iowa, a 84-81 loser to UNLV in Sunday’s West Regional title game, that IU has to think about now.

“Reaching the Final Four was one of our goals from the beginning of the season,” Alford said. “Now that we’ve reached it, we’ve only got one thing on our minds and that’s to win the thing.”