BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – For the second time this season, Indiana proved it's capable of going toe-to-toe with the nation's No. 1 team in the land Saturday.
The problem this time around, though, was Indiana did it for 30 minutes instead of 40.
Indiana (13-6) squandered a nine-point lead against top-ranked UConn (20-1) late in the first half, then watched that lead balloon to 20 early in the second half before eventually falling, 88-80, at Assembly Hall.
Early on, the Hoosiers had a raucous crowd of 17,324 on their feet and UConn on the ropes. Rod Wilmont and Marshall Strickland hit back-to-back 3-pointers to open a 29-20 lead with eight minutes remaining in the half, capping a flurry that had Huskies' Coach Jim Calhoun concerned.
"Early in the game, I thought the game was going to get away from us," said Calhoun.
It didn't, though, thanks in part to Marco Killingsworth being forced to the bench with his second foul a minute later. With Killingsworth sidelined for the final 6:43 of the half, UConn went on a 19-5 run to go into the locker room with a 41-36 lead.
While Killingsworth didn't have the same sort of dominating effort that he did when he scored 34 points against Duke in December, he did finish with 15 points and his presence was obviously missed.
"It definitely hurt us – every time he goes out it hurts us, because he's our guy," said IU Coach Mike Davis. "You have to have that post guy that can make some plays for you."
While the Hoosiers were far from out of the contest down only five at halftime, they knew they had let a golden opportunity get away from them by allowing UConn to get back into the game and subsequently take the lead into intermission.
"We had them down nine, and we let them right back in the game," said Robert Vaden, who had 12 points and a team-high nine rebounds. "We have to learn to hold teams off when we get a lead."
That UConn lead, meanwhile, quickly became lopsided early in the second half. While the Hoosiers were missing eight of their first 10 second half shots, Connecticut scored on 10 of its first 11 possessions after intermission. Rudy Gay, who had game-high totals of 19 points and 12 rebounds, got things started with a 3-pointer to push the lead to six. Hilton Armstrong followed with a dunk and an opportunity for a conventional 3-point play. After he missed the free throw, Josh Boone corralled the rebound and Rashad Anderson added another 3-pointer to push the margin to 11.
That forced Indiana to call a 30-second timeout 1:27 into the half, but it did little to slow the Huskies' run. UConn outscored the Hoosiers 22-7 in the opening six minutes of the half to open a 63-43 lead.
"There were moments and minutes in that game where we were pretty special," said Calhoun, referring to the big turnaround.
Indiana, though, didn't go quietly. Lewis Monroe scored on a layup and Robert Vaden added a 3-pointer and a layup of his own to cut the lead to 13. After a Boone conventional three-point play pushed the margin back to 16, Earl Calloway entered and spearheaded another Indiana rally.
With Calloway pushing the pace and attacking UConn in transition, Indiana cut into the UConn lead. Calloway assisted on a Marshall Strickland 3-pointer and then scored on a layup of his own while being fouled. After missing the free throw, Calloway snared the rebound and kicked the ball out to Vaden, who knocked down another 3-pointer to cut the lead to 11.
In the next several minutes Calloway would come up with a steal of Marcus Williams that led to a Wilmont 3-pointer and then assisted on a layup for Ben Allen, and suddenly the Hoosiers found themselves down by only seven, 71-64, with 8:01 left.
"They kept coming back," said Calhoun. "We got a little sloppy but they had something to do with that."
It was a big effort for Calloway, who didn't play in Wednesday's win over Northwestern or in the first half of the Connecticut contest.
"If Earl can play that way, it changes our tempo, and it changes our basketball team," said Davis.
Eventually, UConn would fend off the Indiana rally and hand the Hoosiers their third loss in their last four games.
"That's a great basketball team we played today, the best I've seen," said Davis, whose team committed a season-low seven turnovers. "I'm not saying because they beat us pretty good - they're so athletic, so physical, so many weapons that you have to try to take away."
Ultimately Indiana was unable to do enough to knock off UConn, but the effort did serve as a reminder of sorts that when Indiana plays well it's capable of matching up with just about anyone in the country.
"It's a good experience because we're going to be in the NCAA Tournament and we're going to have to play teams like that," said Vaden.
Killingsworth 4-13 7-8 15, Kline 0-1 0-0 0, Wilmont 5-14 0-2 14, Strickland 5-9 4-4 16, Vaden 5-19 0-0 12, Suhr 0-0 0-0 0, Ratliff 2-4 0-0 5, Allen 2-7 1-1 5, Monroe 2-5 0-0 5, Calloway 4-5 0-1 8. Totals 29-77 12-16 80.
Boone 7-9 2-2 16, Gay 6-13 4-6 19, Armstrong 6-10 4-8 16, Williams 5-10 2-2 12, Austrie 0-0 0-0 0, Adrien 2-2 0-0 4, Adnerson 3-10 3-4 10, Nelson 0-0 0-0 0, Brown 3-5 4-4 11. Totals 32-59 19-26 88.
Halftime Score: UConn 41, Indiana 36. 3-Pointers: Indiana 10-29 (Wilmont 4-10, Strickland 2-3, Vaden 2-10, Ratliff 1-2, Allen 0-3, Monroe 1-1), UConn 5-14 (Gay 3-4, Armstrong 0-1, Williams 0-1, Anderson 1-6, Brown 1-2). Rebounds: Indiana 35 (Vaden 9), UConn 45 (Gay 12). Assists: Indiana 16 (Strickland 5), UConn 15 (Williams 9). Turnovers: Indiana 7 (Vaden 2, Killingsworth 2), UConn 16 (Williams 6). Blocks: UConn 7 (Boone 3), Indiana 0. Attendance: 17,324. Officials: Ted Hillary, Steve Welmer, Reggie Greenwood.
Hoosiers Come Up Short Against No. 1 UConn
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