Saturday, March 30, 2002

'Other' game? Not to Indiana, Oklahoma




The Associated Press

        ATLANTA — Indiana wasn't supposed to be this close to a national championship. Not without Bobby Knight.

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Indiana coach Mike Davis jokingly inspects Tom Coverdale's injured ankle Friday.
(AP photo)
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        Oklahoma wasn't supposed to be this close to a national championship. Not without a football.

        Who cares if this is supposed to be the “other” game at the Final Four?

        Indiana meets Oklahoma today at the Georgia Dome.

        The other semifinal may have more glamorous overtones, with No.1 seeds Maryland and Kansas squaring off. But don't write off Indiana (24-11) because the Hoosiers were a No.5 seed. After all, Indiana shocked defending national champion Duke to get this far.

        “The only team people thought we could beat was Anchorage,” coach Mike Davis said. “I don't understand that. But being the underdog right now is good, because we're trying to prove a point.”

        Oklahoma (31-4), a No.2 seed that could have been a No.1, has proved that having six junior-college players isn't necessarily the sign of a renegade program in search of a quick fix.

        “I almost get offended when people ask me about junior-college kids,” coach Kelvin Sampson said Friday. “It's almost like there's something wrong with them.”

        The Hoosiers are in the national semifinals for the first time since 1992 — long before anyone heard of players being choked, zero-tolerance policies and that infamous question, “What's up, Knight?”

        Davis is the coach now, having learned to cope with Knight's loyalists, deal with a speech impediment and fend off thoughts of quitting.

        “Basically, this is Coach Davis' team,” said Indiana defensive stopper Dane Fife, who played his first two years for Knight.

        “People make a big deal out of playing with coach Knight's players. Then Phil Jackson is playing with Del Harris' players. Rick Pitino is playing with Denny Crum's players. This is Coach Davis' team. We consider ourselves Coach Davis' players.”

        Oklahoma, which lost the 1988 title game to Kansas, plays ferocious defense and takes each rebound personally.

        “I think our practices are the most brutal in America,” Aaron McGhee said. “It's kind of like a war out there. Bodies are flying everywhere.”

        Oklahoma is not an appealing team to face when you're hobbling. Indiana point guard Tom Coverdale has spent most of the week icing a sprained left ankle, wondering how effective he'll be against the swarming Sooners.

        “Right now, it's really hard to tell, because they haven't allowed me to do much on it,” he said.

        He'll take it up a notch when the Hoosiers hold a private practice just a few hours before tipoff.

        Publicly, at least, the Hoosiers don't sound too concerned. But Coverdale, who averages 12.2 points and 4.9 assists a game, must be able to play effectively for his team to have a shot at upsetting the Sooners.

        If Coverdale is limited, Indiana will turn to freshman Donald Perry, who has played just 13.5 minutes a game.

        “Donald is a good player, and he's going to step up and make some big plays for us,” Coverdale said. “This team has proven it can win without me.”

        Oklahoma, which has won seven national titles in football, is hoping to win its first on the court. If the Sooners fall short, it won't be for a lack of effort.

        The Sooners average 40 rebounds a game and hold opponents to a 40.3 shooting percentage.

        “There's certain things that are not negotiable,” Sampson said. “Talent sometimes can have an off day. Hard work and effort should never have an off day.”

        Jared Jeffries, who had 24 points and 15 rebounds against Duke, is the key to Indiana's versatility.

        “The reason I set the offense up the way I did is for Jared Jeffries to cause confusion and havoc,” Davis said. “We want teams to double-team us. That's our strength. He's an unselfish player. He'll pass the basketball.”

       



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