Bloomington, Ind. – As the game clock ticked down under 30 seconds and the game appeared decided, Connecticut's Jim Calhoun implored his team to not celebrate its 68-63 win over Indiana at Assembly Hall.
But once the final horn sounded, the Connecticut coach couldn't downplay the significance of his short-handed team's victory against the seventh-ranked Hoosiers.
"I think back to Duke down seven, national championship game, (this win is) on that plateau," Calhoun said in reference to his team's 1999 NCAA title.
What made this win so special for the Huskies (14-5) was the fact it managed to bring a halt to Indiana's 12-game winning streak and 29-game homecourt winning streak despite playing without starter Jerome Dyson and top reserve Doug Wiggins. Both were suspended indefinitely for unspecified reasons, a decision that didn't come until moments before the team departed for Bloomington on Friday.
Despite those absences and a dreadful start that landed UConn in a 9-0 hole, the undermanned Huskies bullied the Hoosiers on their homecourt. UConn owned a 44-28 edge on the glass, a 34-16 edge in points in the paint, and that was more than enough to hand Kelvin Sampson his first homecourt loss as IU's head coach.
"My respect for Indiana, this building, for all it represents, this is basketball heaven," Calhoun said. "To come in here when they have a 17-1 team with some terrific players and to have our kids…give everything they had."
While Calhoun couldn't have been prouder of his team, Sampson wasn't pleased with many aspects of the Hoosiers' play. Eric Gordon was just 5-of-16 and took some ill-advised shots on his way to 14 points, and the Hoosiers wound up shooting 37.1 percent overall, including 27.6 percent in the opening half.
"(Gordon) looked like he was struggling tonight," Sampson said. "The game didn't come real easy to him tonight."
Indiana did managed to make 11-of-20 3-pointers – including six from Bassett – but the offense generally struggled against UConn.
"Probably for the first time, a couple of us probably played a little selfish, probably took some shots we hadn't taken all season," said Bassett, who finished with a team-high 18 points. "Sometimes we didn't make that extra pass today."
Sampson thought Indiana's inability to make shots affected how they played on the other end.
"What bothered me today was I didn't see our team gritting their teeth," Sampson said. "We kept trying to come back, but the things you notice about young kids…when their shots aren't going in, that will dissolve their effort. You have to grow up form that."
Connecticut was led by Craig Austrie, who replaced Dyson in the starting lineup and finished with 15 points. Eight of those points came in the final 1:38, as he made all but two of 10 free-throw attempts to stave off Indiana's effort at a comeback.
The Huskie frontline, meanwhile, dominated inside. Stanley Robinson and Jeff Adrien finished with 11 points and 11 rebounds apiece, while 7'3" center Haseem Thabeet added 12 points, five rebounds, two blocks and forced IU into a slew of altered attempts in the paint.
"He had two blocks and 20 detour signs," Calhoun said.
Early on, it appeared the Hoosiers would have their way with their Big East visitors. Eric Gordon, Jamarcus Ellis and Armon Bassett connected on 3-pointers in the game's opening 3 ½ minutes to take IU to a 9-0 lead. But UConn weathered that storm and eventually used a 12-1 run midway through the half to take a 19-16 lead. Calhoun's team would eventually extend that margin to five, 29-24, at half.
Indiana's hopes of cutting into the margin were quickly dashed in the second half. Indiana missed eight of its first nine second half shots and found itself in a nine-point hole, 36-27. Ten second half points from Jordan Crawford and four second-half 3-pointers from Armon Bassett kept the Hoosiers within shouting distance, but UConn made nine of 12 free throws in the final 1:38 to preserve the win.
"I was just hoping that clock would malfunction and go quicker," Calhoun said. "We were running out of gas and we found enough inside of us."
It will now be up to Indiana to see what it has on the inside as it prepares for a huge Thursday night game against Wisconsin with the Big Ten lead on the line.
"We still have a good team," Sampson said. "This is a setback. We still have 12 more games and our team is going to win a ton more games and this may wind up being the best thing that happens to this team."
D. White 5-13 3-4 13, M. White 0-1 0-0 0, Bassett 6-10 0-0 18, Ellis 1-7 0-0 3, Gordon 5-16 3-4 14, Thomas 0-4 0-0 0, Crawford 4-8 0-0 10, Ratliff 0-0 0-0 0 Stemler 2-3 0-0 5. Totals 23-62 6-8 63.
Adrien 4-9 3-5 11, Robinson 3-10 4-5 11, Thabeet 6-7 0-2 12, Price 5-14 2-2 14, Austrie 3-7 9-12 15, Beverly 1-5 0-0 3, Kelly 0-0 0-0 0, Mandeldove 0-0 0-0 0, Edwards 1-1 0-0 2. Totals 23-53 18-26 68.
3-Pointers: Indiana 11-20 (Bassett 6-8, Crawford 2-4, Gordon 1-5, Ellis 1-2, Stemler 1-1), UConn 4-6 (Price 2-2, Robinson 1-2, Beverley 1-1, Austrie 0-1). Rebounds: Indiana 28 (D. White 10), Connecticut 44 (Adrien, Robinson 11). Assists: Indiana 13 (Gordon 4), Connecticut 10 (Price 6). Turnovers: Indiana 9, Connecticut 14 (Price 7). Blocks: Indiana 2 (D. White 2), Connecticut 3 (Thabeet 2, Robinson 1). Steals: Indiana 8, Connecticut 2. Attendance: 17,392. Officials: Jim Burr, Reggie Greenwood, J.D. Collins. Halftime Score: Connecticut 29, Indiana 24.
Huskies Bully Hoosiers, 68-63
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