Hoosiers collar Bulldogs

Hoosiers collar Bulldogs

Wilmont, White carry Indiana past Gonzaga in the first round of the NCAA Tournament

by Chris Korman, H-T sports writer

March 16, 2007

Indiana’s D.J. White swats a rebound away from Gonzaga’s Micah Downs during the second half of Thursday night’s first-round NCAA Tournament game in Sacramento, Calif. The Hoosiers beat the Bulldogs, 70-57, to earn the right to play second-seeded UCLA Saturday. Chris Howell | Herald-Times
From the March 16, 2007 Bloomington Herald-Times

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – Rod Wilmont had just committed a foul while trying to make a steal.

He ran halfway down the court anyway and slammed the ball, right in front of the Indiana band.

You might have thought Wilmont just didn’t hear the whistle.

Until he turned back, his face slathered with disgust.

That’s when Kelvin Sampson barked at him and apologized to the referee.

But, really, if you want bravado, you’ve got to accept bravado.

Wilmont had it Thursday night when Indiana needed it, hitting 6-of-11 3-pointers and scoring 22 points to lead his team to a 70-57 win against Gonzaga in the first round of the NCAA Tournament at Arco Arena.

The seventh-seeded Hoosiers advance to play UCLA, which smothered Weber State 70-42, in a second-round game scheduled for about 8:25 p.m. Saturday.

“That was the game plan,” Wilmont said, when asked about his early shots. “Coach told me to just go out there and be aggressive.”

So, the same message Sampson has given and will continue to give Wilmont for as long as this run lasts.

Sampson, when asked if it was as aggravating coaching Wilmont as his facial expressions make it look, said, “Yes. He’s unique. But what you see is what you get.”

Sampson had said Wednesday that the Hoosiers couldn’t win without Wilmont bringing swagger to the court. He lacked it against Illinois in the Big Ten Tournament.

Not Thursday night, and a spurt of four 3-pointers and 16 points in the first half allowed that confidence to spread.

Specifically to D.J. White.

A tough basket from the baseline by White, who scored 14 of his 16 points in the second half, gave Indiana an eight-point lead at 10:35 of the second half, and Gonzaga couldn’t get past tight defense the rest of the game.

“I like the way we won the game,” Sampson said. “We’re not an offensive juggernaut. We have to win with defense and rebounding.”

Indiana had 45 rebounds compared to 30 for Gonzaga.

Earl Calloway scored 10 points but they were nothing compared to what he did to Gonzaga leading scorer Derek Raivio. The heady senior guard could find no way to escape Calloway – the Hoosiers also switched well on defense – and scored just 12 points.

“They’re not an easy team to guard with those three perimeter guys and the way they pick and pop outside,” Sampson said, also talking about Jeremy Pargo (seven points) and Matt Bouldin (eight). “I just though our defense was tremendous.”

After a few feeble possessions to open the game, Wilmont could contain himself not longer. He started launching. He hit his first 3-pointer from the left wing while being fouled. He missed the free throw, but the Hoosiers went 15-for-15 from the line the rest of the way.

He had bravado and he had good fortune. His second 3-pointer clanked off the rim but flipped off the glass and in.

Wilmont knocked down a mid-range jumper, then grabbed a rebound and fed Calloway for a fastbreak 3-point play to put Indiana ahead 28-23. Gonzaga pulled back within one before Wilmont dove to save a ball to Lance Stemler, who scooped the ball up over three defenders and into the net. Then Wilmont hit a jumper to put Indiana ahead 34-29 going into the half.

Ratliff also hit two 3-pointers in the first half, one the result of an aggressive drive by Bassett, who kicked to Wilmont, who rounded to Ratliff for the open shot.

White, who was playing in his first NCAA game, struggled early. He missed the first shot of the game and moved delicately in the paint at the offensive end. His perimeter shots weren’t well-defended but went astray anyway.

His rebounding was strong all game, though, and he finished with 10 to lead the Hoosiers. White also had a team-high four assists.

“Just more aggressive, I felt,” White said of his improved play. “My teammates did a good job of still going to me and believing in me.”

Part of that came from Sampson, who, as has done several times this year, commanded his team to work inside-out. That led to a patient pace and allowed Indiana to settle in on defense.

“The big difference is defense,” White said. ” Last year, we didn’t play any defense in this game. This time, we just wanted to play Hoosier basketball and defend. I think we did a pretty good job tonight.”