Bloomington, Ind. - Scheduling the nation's top-ranked team in the middle of conference play can only do one for thing the Indiana Hoosiers.
Restore some much needed confidence.
A win will not guarantee Indiana a NCAA tournament berth, nor will it win them the Big Ten championship. But it can make them a more confident squad heading into a tough second-half of the Big Ten season.
Indiana sits at 5-3 in the conference with eight games to play. With five road games on the road in those eight games, the Hoosiers need a shot in the arm and they need it quick. Enter No.1 Connecticut, at Assembly Hall, with nothing for the Hoosiers to lose. A win against the Huskies could right the Hoosier ship that has lost two of the last three games and more importantly send that ship sailing right through Big Ten play.
"We're still working hard every day and that's the key," said Indiana senior Marshall Strickland. "We're still in the hunt and we still fell like we can reach our goals at the end of the season. We're staying positive and we feel like we're back on the right track right now.
"It would be great to get this one under our belt. We'll be steam rolling ahead once we beat UCONN."
Confidence is exactly what the doctor ordered for this Indiana team. Without D.J. White, the Hoosiers have suffered from slow starts and big deficits during Big Ten play. The Hoosiers just can't seem to find the right mixture of outside shooting and inside scoring on the road, leading to a 0-3 conference start away from Assembly Hall. At home Indiana has beaten the likes of Illinois, Michigan and Ohio State – three teams that look to figure prominently into the Big Ten race.
"I don't think our confidence should have dropped, but it has just because of the way we've been beaten on the road," said senior Sean Kline. "But we're a good team, and we're a great team here at Assembly Hall. It's going to be a war (against UConn)."
The war will begin when Indiana takes on its second No.1 team this season at Assembly Hall. Indiana lost an early matchup with then-No.1 Duke, 75-67, during the Big Ten/ACC challenge. The Hoosiers started off slow against the Blue Devils, trailing 16-2 before making a 16-6 run to get back into the game. Indiana knows another start like that could spell doom against UCONN.
"I think it's going to be real important to get the fans in it early," said Strickland. "Especially against a team like UCONN who likes to jump ahead early. If we let them get a big lead early we probably won't be able to come back. We need to go blow for blow at the beginning.
"I think the crowd's going to be crazy from the start so we shouldn't have any problem getting energy early."
Indiana has recently switched the lineup in an effort to jump start the offense. After starting the season with Lewis Monroe and Earl Calloway splitting time at the point, Indiana head coach Mike Davis had switched Strickland back to the point position he played last year and inserted Rod Wilmont into the starting lineup. Wilmont responded with a career-high 23 points in the win over Northwestern.
"I feel like things are going in the right direction right now," said Strickland. "I think Northwestern made the game ugly like they always do, but we kept playing our style and we won. It was a good win for us.
"UCONN is a really good team, but I feel like with them coming into our house we can beat them. We're excited. It's another chance at a top ranked team and it's rare you get those opportunities. I think we're going to take advantage of it."
Conneticut knocked off the Hoosiers last season 74-69 in Hartford and Indiana will try to avenge a disappointing setback. Indiana had a 13-point lead before the Huskies used a 16-1 run to lead them to the win. The Hoosiers hope to outrun the Huskies again, but this time pick up the win.
"If we can get the ball in transition I think we're quicker than they are and we can outrun their big guys, maybe get some open shots," said Strickland. "We're going to run them around and make the big guys work. We'll try to get up and down the court with them and I think they're going to have trouble trying to match our quickness."
Confidence Is The Key
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