Bloomington, Ind. – A.J. Ratliff says just about everyone was relaxed as the Hoosiers awaited word on their NCAA Tournament fate.
That is, everyone except for D.J. White.
Thanks to last year's injuries, the Hoosiers' 6-9, 251-pound forward had yet to experience NCAA tourney play. As a freshman Indiana missed out on the Big Dance and instead were invited to the NIT, where it lost to Vanderbilt in the opening round. Then, a year ago, an injured White watched from the sidelines as his teammates knocked off San Diego State and then lost to Gonzaga in Salt Lake City.
Just about every prognosticator said the Hoosiers were safely in the field of 65, but perhaps IU's first-round exit from the Big Ten Tournament created a small bit of doubt in White.
"D.J.'s hands were sweating," joked Ratliff. "He's got puddles under his arms he was so nervous. Once we got that seven seed, that relaxed some guys."
Evidenced by the No. 7 seed, Indiana's status as an NCAA tourney team was never in doubt in the eyes of the NCAA Selection Committee. Now, Ratliff, White and the rest of the Hoosiers begin preparation for a Thursday match-up with 10th-seeded Gonzaga, the West Coast Conference postseason champion.
It's a very different Gonzaga team from a year ago, which was led by first-team All-America forward Adam Morrison and center J.P. Batista. This year's squad relies a great deal on the play of its perimeter players, most notably Derek Raivio and Jeremy Pargo. Raivio averages a team-best 18.2 points per game and shoots 41 percent from behind the 3-point arc, while Pargo averages 12.2 points and a team-best 4.6 assists.
The Zags' frontcourt, meanwhile, lost Morrison and Batista in the off-season and is now dealing with the absence of its top returnee Josh Heytvelt as well. The 6-9 Heytvelt was averaging 15.5 points and a team-best 7.7 rebounds before being suspended along with teammate Theo Davis after being charged with felony drug possession following a mid-February incident.
Heytvelt's absence could free up White for plenty of opportunities inside against a Gonzaga squad that starts 6-9, 223-pouned senior Sean Mallon and 6-9, 228-pound junior college transfer Abdullahi Kuso up front. But for the time being, White is just happy to get a chance to play in the NCAAs for the first time in his collegiate career.
"It was tough watching from the sidelines last year," White said. "Just not getting a chance to help my team was difficult, so I'm looking forward to getting out there this time.
"We're confident and looking forward to this opportunity. We're blessed to be in the tourney – a lot of teams are back at home watching. We'll take it game by game and see what happens."
If Indiana can get by Gonzaga, a potential second-round match-up against second-seeded UCLA looms. The Bruins were a likely No. 1 seed a week ago, but slipped from the top line after falling to Cal in the opening round of the Pac-10 tournament last week.
White knows that would be a tough assignment for the 20-10 Hoosiers, but he's also aware of the fact that only one of the Hoosiers' 10 losses came by double digits (13 at Purdue).
"I think we can do a lot of damage (in the NCAA Tournament)," White said. "If we play our best ball, I feel we can compete with anyone. We have to put it together and go out and compete."
White To Get First Taste of NCAA Play
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