Sunday, March 23, 2003

IU ready to mount a charge

Midwest Regional: Hoosiers enter 2nd round, hope history repeats

The Associated Press

BOSTON - It's Indiana's time of year, the month when regular-season mediocrity is drowned out by screaming, red-clad fans who know anything is possible for the tradition-rich basketball program.

Last season, the Hoosiers entered the NCAA Tournament seeded fifth with a 20-11 record and made a surprising run to the championship game, where they lost to Maryland.

This season, they were seeded seventh with a 20-12 record, beat Alabama 67-62 Friday night and face second-seeded Pittsburgh in the Midwest Regional today (12:10 p.m. tipoff).

"We basically had the same record as we did last year," Indiana's Tom Coverdale said. "But if you do well in the tournament, nobody remembers that."

The Hoosiers have a much tougher start this season, playing Pittsburgh after beating No. 10 Alabama. Their first two opponents last year were No. 12 Utah and No. 13 North Carolina-Wilmington.

They went into this tournament with nine losses in their last 15 games.

"It seems that they've been putting it together the last couple of weeks, and this is really where you want to peak as a team," Panthers guard Brandin Knight said

Syracuse and Oklahoma State hope to do that in Sunday's second game in Boston in the second round of the East Regional.

In the opener, Indiana faces a more physical team. The Hoosiers aren't playing defense or setting screens as well as they did in the first game of last year's tournament.

"Is this team right now capable of being better than last year?" Indiana coach Mike Davis said. Today's game "is going to be a true test."

Indiana does have five NCAA championships and is in its 18th straight NCAA Tournament.

"Knowing Indiana and their history and tradition, they'll have more fans," Pittsburgh coach Ben Howland said. "I told our team, 'Even though we're going to wear the white jerseys this is a road game.' "

The Panthers, one of the nation's best defensive teams, took a crash course in Indiana's varied offense.

Pittsburgh, which has won 10 straight, hopes to knock Indiana off balance. It also won its first two games in last year's tournament before losing to Kent State in the round of 16.

Had the Panthers won, they would have played Indiana in the regional final.

"We went (a few) games shorter than they did," Pittsburgh's Ontario Lett said. "I don't think experience will really be that big of a key. Both teams have been through this before."

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