Monday, March 25, 2002
Hoosiers back in the spotlight
The Associated Press
LEXINGTON, Ky. Indiana guard Dane Fife twirled his finger in the air, as if to signal that he didn't want all this to end.
Not his college career, not the Hoosiers' 3-point barrage against Kent State and not the deepest tournament run for Indiana in a decade.
Fife just wanted to keep playing, and the Hoosiers made sure he will.
Jarrad Odle and I are seniors, and A.J. (Moye) told me before the game he wasn't going to let me go out this way, Fife said Saturday night after the Hoosiers' 81-69 victory sent them into their first Final Four since 1992. He knew how bad I wanted to win this game, how bad I wanted to go to the Final Four and how bad this team wanted to go to the Final Four.
Fife, for one, never stopped talking about those intentions, not even when the Hoosiers were 6-4, out of the Top 25 and considered the state's second-best team in late December.
Back then, Fife already was saying that the Hoosiers had to play like a Final Four team. Now, as implausible as it seems, they are.
At the start of the season, our goal was to win the Big Ten, win the Big Ten tournament and go to Atlanta, coach Mike Davis said. Sometimes when you pray for things, you have to be careful of what you pray for.
When the season started, most people figured the Hoosiers couldn't overcome the loss of center Kirk Haston, who left after his junior season for the NBA.
The Hoosiers proved otherwise.
They found an inside presence in Jared Jeffries, Jeff Newton and Odle, and were versatile enough to use an outside game that complemented them perfectly.
The combination was too much for teams such as Illinois, Michigan State, Duke and Kent State, and it's the reason Indiana is headed to Atlanta for a matchup with Oklahoma next weekend.
The thing our guards are ready to do is to take shots, guard Kyle Hornsby said. If they take away our inside game, that's the only way we can open it back up.
Kent State found out how difficult the Hoosiers can make it for opponents.
It decided to clamp down on Jeffries, then watched the Hoosiers make their first eight 3-pointers and finish with 15, a school record for an NCAA tournament game.
Fife led the way with five 3-pointers and celebrated the last one by pumping his fist. Hornsby hit four more and Kent State coach Stan Heath called it the best shooting performance he's seen in 13 years of coaching.
That part wasn't new for Indiana, which had made 17, 16 and 14 3-pointers in games this season.
What is new is where the Hoosiers wound up.
This will be Indiana's first Final Four under a coach other than Bob Knight since 1953, and the road back has been contentious.
Just two seasons after Knight, who won three national championships at Indiana, was fired and the players, led by Fife, threatened to leave en masse, they proclaimed their program was back.
There was a tradition here that was kind of exiled when coach Knight was fired, Jared Jeffries said. Now coach Davis is building something new.
Following the game, Davis presented university president Myles Brand with the game ball as a gesture of gratitude for giving him the job a move that kept all but one player in an Indiana uniform.
This is where this program belongs, Fife said, in final eights and Final Fours.
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