Sacramento, Cal. – Indiana may have struggled all season away from Assembly Hall, but just maybe the Hoosiers have found a home away from home.
Sacramento's Arco Arena was the starting point for the Hoosiers' improbable run to the Final Four five years ago, and it was once again friendly venue Thursday night as IU handled Gonzaga 70-57 to set up a round two encounter with second-seeded UCLA Saturday at 8:25 p.m. EST.
It was a tale of two halves for the Hoosiers – but both good stories to tell. Coach Kelvin Sampson's team bombed away from deep early and then pounded it inside late to produce IU's fourth consecutive first-round NCAA tourney victory. Rod Wilmont scored 16 of his game-high 22 points in the first half and D.J. White scored 14 of his 16 in the second half to lead Indiana into the second round.
Sampson was pleased to get the barrage of 3-pointers early, but it wasn't a recipe for success in his mind for 40 minutes.
"At halftime we talked about running the offense through D.J. on the block," Sampson said. "We really stressed to not shoot 3s unless the ball went inside out. We felt if we could pound it inside and play inside out the offense would flow a little better."
While Wilmont and White led the Hoosiers offensively, the team's work on the defensive end was equally important. Indiana limited Gonzaga to 33.9 percent shooting overall and to its second lowest point total of the year. Derek Raivio, meanwhile was limited to just 12 points on 4-of-10 shooting.
"I thought our defense was tremendous," Sampson said.
Early on, it appeared the Hoosiers' NCAA fate was going to be determined by their marksmanship from deep. Indiana's first seven field goals all came from behind the arc, including four from Wilmont and two from A.J. Ratliff. Indiana did look to go inside White, but when the Hoosiers' 6-9 forward wasn't getting swarmed by a pair of defenders he was off target, missing his first five shots from the floor.
Wilmont finally ventured inside the 3-point line for a basket when he pulled up off the dribble and knocked down a 14-footer at the 5:03 mark of the first half to break a 23-23 tie and put IU up by two. The Hoosiers would eventually open their biggest lead of the half late, using a five-footer in the lane from Lance Stemler at the 1:01 mark and then a 15-foot jumper from Wilmont with 14 seconds remaining to open a 34-29 margin at halftime. Wilmont's shot capped a 16-point first half for the Hoosier senior.
Indiana extended that margin in the second half, but in a very different way. The Hoosiers went inside to D.J. White, Earl Calloway and Armon Bassett penetrated the lane and either finished or got to the free-throw line, and ultimately Indiana kept Gonzaga from seriously threatening the lead for the game's final 10 minutes.
"My teammates did a good job going to me and believing in me, and I just knocked down some shots," White said.
After scoring only two points on 1-of-6 shooting in the first half, D.J. White was 5-of-7 in the second half and also finished with a game-high 10 rebounds. The Hoosiers also went a perfect 12-of-12 from the free-throw line in the second half and owned a 45-30 edge on the boards.
Indiana only hit two 3-pointers in the second half – both from Wilmont – and the final one was a dagger. After Gonzaga's Matt Bouldin cut IU's lead to eight with 2 ½ minutes remaining, Wilmont answered with the last of his six 3-pointers at the 2:06 mark to extend the lead to 11, 66-55, and Gonzaga was finished.
"We knew it would be a grinder type of game and it was," Gonzaga Coach Mark Few said. "IU stepped up and made shots…and that's why they move on and we go home."
Sampson is happy to be moving on, but he's also excited for the Hoosiers' senior class which gets an opportunity to go up against UCLA on Saturday with a spot in the Sweet Sixteen on the line.
"The thing I'm most happy about is this senior class gets to go out like this, this kind of year," Sampson said. "This is their 21st win, won our first round game in the tournament. These kids have been through a lot in the last few years. Being able to have something good happen to them has been pleasurable."
D. White 6-13 4-4 16, M. White 0-1 0-0 0, Bassett 2-8 4-4 9, Wilmont 8-16 0-1 22, Calloway 3-7 5-5 11, Ratliff 2-6 0-0 6, Allen 0-0 0-0 0, Stemler 2-6 2-2 6, Shaw 0-1 0-0 0, Keeling 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 23-58 15-16 70.
Kuso 2-7 0-0 4, Mallon 4-10 2-2 11, Pargo 1-7 5-7 7, Raivio 4-10 2-2 12, Bouldin 2-6 3-4 8, Altidor Cespedes 0-1 0-0 0, Downs 1-5 0-0 3, Pendergraft 5-10 0-1 12. Totals 19-56 12-16 57.
Halftime Score: Indiana 34, Gonzaga 29. 3-Pointers: Indiana 9-25 (Wilmont 6-11, Ratliff 2-5, Bassett 1-3, Stemler 0-4, Calloway 0-2), Gonzaga 7-19 (Raivio 2-6, Pendergraft 2-5, Downs 1-2, Mallon 1-2, Pargo 0-1, Altidor-Cespedes 0-1). Rebounds: Indiana 45 (D. White 10), Gonzaga 30 (Mallon 6). Assists: Indiana 15 (D. White 4), Gonzaga 14 (Pargo 4, Raivio 4). Turnovers: Indiana 13, Gonzaga 10. Blocks: Indiana 2 (D. White), Gonzaga 5 (Kuso 2). Attendance: 16,338. Officials: Tony Greene, John Caldwell, Dwayne Gladden.
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