Hoosier MVP…Marshall Strickland was magnificent early on, guiding the Hoosiers to a 29-20 lead and making UConn Coach Jim Calhoun nervous that the game "might get away from us." During the 14-5 IU run that turned a 15-15 game into the 29-20 IU lead, Strickland had five points, two rebounds and three assists, having a hand in five of IU's six baskets during the four-minute stretch.
Strickland finished with 16 points (5-of-9 shooting), four rebounds, five assists, two steals and zero turnovers, making it one of the best all-around games he's played in an IU uniform. He helped lead an IU offense that committed a season-low seven turnovers, including only two in the first half. With Indiana set to embark on the most critical week of its season with a road trip to Wisconsin and then a weekend matchup at home with first-place Iowa Saturday, that sort of play from the senior guard could prove huge for IU Coach Mike Davis' squad.
Pivotal Stretch…It was UConn's 22-7 run to start the second half that put the game away, but Indiana clearly had UConn on the ropes early, only to see a nine-point lead turn into a five-point deficit in the final 6:49 of the first half. With Killingsworth on the bench with two fouls, Rudy Gay scored seven points and Marcus Williams added four as Connecticut ripped off a 19-5 run to wrestle control of the game away from the Hoosiers. While UConn was scoring on eight out of nine possessions late in the half, Indiana missed nine out of its last ten shots in the period. Two of those misses came from Robert Vaden, who went scoreless in the first half for the second straight game.
What I Found Most Concerning… When Indiana went through some tough offensive stretches late in the first half and early in the second, the team's defensive effort slipped as well. After Marco Killingsworth was sent to the bench with his second foul at the 6:49 mark of the first half, Connecticut scored on eight of its next nine possessions to open its 41-36 lead. At the start of the second half, the Huskies overpowered the Hoosiers inside, throwing down a pair of dunks and adding four layups while scoring on 10 of its first 11 possessions to open its 20-point lead. UConn out-rebounded the Hoosiers 13-2 during the opening six minutes of the second half, including a 7-1 edge on the offensive glass.
Indiana has to get better on the defensive end if it hopes to contend for a Big Ten title during the regular season's final month. With the abundance of 3-point shots that it takes, IU is bound to be a team that can go on big runs offensively, but will suffer through the occasional drought as well. When that happens, though, it's imperative that the effort on the defensive end doesn't slip as well. There's no excuse for allowing teams to score every trip down the floor like IU did during those two critical stretches of the UConn game.
Another point worth mentioning is that the blame for some of the defensive woes can't all be heaped on Marco Killingsworth's broad shoulders. Often the scapegoat when IU struggles defensively, Killingsworth was on the bench at the end of the first half when UConn went on its run. That run, meanwhile, didn't come courtesy the UConn frontcourt, either – of UConn's final 17 points of the first half, 12 came from the backcourt, and three more came on a 3-pointer from forward Rudy Gay.
What I Found Most Surprising… How good Earl Calloway was against one of the nation's best point guards, UConn's Marcus Williams. After sitting for the entire Northwestern game, Calloway came off the bench to contribute eight points, five rebounds, three assists and two steals in 11 second-half minutes. He had Williams visibly frustrated with his ability to blow by the Huskies' point guard and get into the lane to create opportunities for himself and his teammates. Calloway's flurry even had Huskies' Coach Jim Calhoun asking Williams why he couldn't figure out a way to stay in front of the fleet-footed IU junior.
Calloway's effort suggests a couple of things. First of all, the first-year Hoosier didn't go in the tank after absorbing some pretty pointed public criticism from his head coach for his play and that of teammate Lewis Monroe. Despite not playing a minute against Northwestern and being demoted to the "Red" squad at practice – the team that generally runs the opposing team's plays and thus gets the regulars prepared for upcoming foes – Calloway didn't hang his head and was more than ready when called on once again to contribute.
His effort also suggests Calloway will once again be a factor for this team during the stretch run. Calloway could prove to be especially valuable when IU needs to rest Killingsworth or sit him due to fouls. Calloway's ability to get into the lane and draw defenders can create the sort of open perimeter looks that Killingsworth usually does with his ability to attract double teams. With that in mind, when Ben Allen is on the floor from here on out, don't be surprised to see Calloway entering the game as well.
What I Found Most Impressive…Indiana didn't quit. UConn came out in the second half and scored on 10 of its first 11 possessions, ripping off a 22-7 run that opened a 63-43 lead that had quieted the Assembly Hall crowd of 17,324.
Indiana responded, first with a 7-0 run to cut the lead to 13. After UConn opened the lead back to 16, Indiana countered with an Earl Calloway-led 11-2 flurry that cut the margin to seven, 71-64, with eight minutes remaining, putting the game's outcome very much in doubt once again. All of this came against a UConn team that seems very much deserving of its No. 1 national ranking.
While Indiana wasn't able to come away with the win in the end, that sort of resiliency could be a sign that when this team ventures on the road in hostile environments like Madison, Champaign and Ann Arbor, it might have the sort of intestinal fortitude to fight through some adversity, something that's been terribly lacking in its first three conference road games. If the Hoosiers' second-half comeback against UConn can give the team the confidence it can do that during the second half of the league race, then this might have been the most valuable "loss" of the season.
Mike Davis on the trials that his team has to go through:
"We are in second place and have a chance to win the conference if we just take care of home and win some road games. I think sometimes people forget we are in second place. It is really a shame that this team has to go through what it has to go through sometimes and read or hear what they have to hear. It disappoints me and it disappoints them. No one should pat you on the back when you lose a basketball game, but no one should crucify you when you are right there in the hunt. If we are 1-7 or 2-6, then you can say what you have to say. But to crucify a team that is playing for first place? To me if you play for first, if you lose you are in second. You don't play for first and go to last. The way our guys felt before the Northwestern games was, 'well we just lost and now are in last place.'
"I take my hat off to my players because I think this team has had to go through more than anybody in the history had to go through. If we win by two it is like we lost...I am proud of these guys because I don't think a lot of players could play through this. I don't think a lot of players could play through what they have to play under. So we lost to UConn. A few more people are going to lose to UConn. Some more people are going to get down by 20 to UConn, trust me."
UConn Coach Jim Calhoun on a defensive adjustment his team made at halftime against Killingsworth:
"We made a good adjustment at half, not doubling as much. We three-quarter fronted him. We didn't want to full front him, because they do a good job of clearing the weak side and throwing him the ball over the top. But I think it took him out of his rhythm. We were physical, tried to bang him and get them to catch the ball a little further off the block…He's a terrific player."
Robert Vaden on Indiana squandering the nine-point first half lead:
"We were up nine and any time you're up nine on the No. 1 team in the country you got them on the ropes, but we didn't bear down and keep that lead."
UConn Coach Jim Calhoun on his team's ability to hold off IU late:
"Maybe two months ago we wouldn't have been tough enough to hold off that rally."
Vaden on the significance of Killingsworth picking up his second foul:
"They had a big run, but we shouldn't panic just because a player gets in foul trouble. He's one of our main guys, but we have guys that can come in and contribute."
Davis on the game:
"If you look at the stat sheet, we shot 77 shots and turned the ball over seven times to their 16. You wonder, ‘boy, that is a game you should win.'"
Davis on the decision to put in Calloway:
"We talked in the first half about pushing the basketball. When we push the ball early, good things happen for us. When Marco (Killingsworth) went out we started to walk it up and against (Connecticut), you got to get it up quick and get into your offense fast and make plays quicker. I thought Earl came in and he had the speed to match their guys. I thought he did a great job. If he can play that way for us it takes us to a different level."
Random Thoughts…While UConn ended the game with a 45-35 rebounding edge, Indiana held its own with the exception of the start of the second half, when UConn out-rebounded IU 13-2. Indiana had 18 offensive rebounds, 13 of which came from guards Robert Vaden (5), Earl Calloway (3), A.J. Ratliff (3), Rod Wilmont (2) and Marshall Strickland (1)…If Saturday's game is any indication, the Hoosiers might be able to return to the sort of up-tempo style that the team wanted to use when the season started. Indiana committed only seven turnovers Saturday, allowing it to hold a commanding 25-9 edge in points off turnovers…Robert Vaden's 19 field goal attempts was the second most by an IU player this year, one shy of Killingsworth's 20 attempts against Duke Nov. 30…Indiana's three primary ball handlers – Marshall Strickland, Earl Calloway and Lewis Monroe – combined for 10 assists and only one turnover in a combined 68 minutes…Rudy Gay entered the game shooting just 26 percent (12-of-47) from behind the 3-point arc, but connected on 3-of-4 from deep against the Hoosiers.
Upon Further Review…Connecticut
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