BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – Indiana has reached the midway point of the Big Ten season a game out of first place, but before they can make the proverbial turn, there's another formidable task to tackle – No. 1 UConn.
Indiana will be taking on its second No. 1 team this season when UCONN comes into Assembly Hall. The Hoosiers lost an earlier matchup this season against the then-No. 1 Duke Blue Devils, 75-67 at Assembly Hall.
"I think it's going to be the same atmosphere," said Marshall Strickland. "It's going to feel like the Duke game all over again. UCONN is coming in here playing great right now. They're playing like they are the best team in the country. It's going to take a big effort to beat them.
"It's really rare that we get two No. 1's here at home. It's a great opportunity for us just to show we can play at that level and it's a good challenge for us, too."
So rare in fact that in the last 60 years of basketball the Hoosiers have done it just twice. In 1995 Indiana lost to Kentucky and Kansas two weeks apart and in 1961 Indiana lost to the same No. 1 Ohio State squad twice.
"We got one on Saturday that's going to be a big game for us," said Wilmont. "This will be another chance to measure ourselves against a good team so when we get to the tournament it won't be a surprise playing a good team. We'll already have played the nation's best twice. Winning Saturday could turn the whole season around right there with one win. Anything could happen after that."
Indiana is hoping a big effort on Saturday could kick off a furious second-half run in the Big Ten, one that they hope will culminate in a Big Ten championship.
That won't be easy, though, considering the fact Indiana currently trails Illinois, Michigan and Iowa, all of whom stand at 6-2. Indiana also must venture on the road for five of its final eight league contests, starting with a trip to Madison, Wis., Wednesday for a match-up with Wisconsin.
After losing two in a row at Iowa and Minnesota, Indiana got a much-needed 72-63 win at home over Northwestern Wednesday. While it wasn't the most dominating of efforts, it was a win, an absolute must for the team as it prepared for a very difficult stretch of its season.
"We needed this (Northwestern) win bad just to get our confidence back," said junior Roderick Wilmont. "We shoot really good at home and it was falling for us tonight. All it comes down to now is winning games, finding ways to win."
Indiana also was able to continue the home winning streak started last season. The Hoosiers have now won 13 straight Big Ten games at home. The problem is they are 2-9 during that same stretch on the road.
"We are sitting at 5-3 halfway through and a win out of first place," said sophomore Robert Vaden. "We have to try to play the same way we play at home and not do anything different on the road. I think we do things differently on the road sometimes. We take bad shots, we don't get the ball inside as much and we don't rebound as well. I think we have to focus more on the road because it can get tough sometimes."
Indiana will travel to Wisconsin next week where the Hoosiers have not won since 1998, a stretch of five straight Badger wins. The Hoosiers have not faired that well against Illinois either, with Indiana's last win in Champaign coming in 1999.
Indiana has had better luck with Purdue and Michigan on the road, splitting the last six with Purdue and winning three in a row in Ann Arbor – part of a nine-game winning streak over the Wolverines. The final road trip is to Penn State, a team that IU boasts a 23-2 record against all-time, with both of those setbacks coming in University Park.
"I think it's good to get back in the win column and get back on track," said senior Marshall Strickland. "It should help to get guys focused. We still feel like we're in the hunt and every day we're working towards that.
"It's real important to keep pace in the conference. We lost a couple that we should have won, but we look at our games ahead and we feel like we're still in the race."
No. 1 UConn A Tall Order For No. 21 Indiana
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