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Inspirational Reads

And thus it ends

March 19, 2007

The final chapter of Kelvin Sampson's rookie year as the head coach of Indiana came to a clanging, banging, grinding halt late Saturday evening. While many people were mired deep in their annual appreciation of Guinness ("Normally, I can't drink the stuff, but it's St. Patty's day!"), the Hoosiers were going toe-to-toe with a team I thought should have been a number one seed, banging, scrapping and fighting their way to a 54-49 loss that ended their tournament run.

The game was won and lost at the free-throw line. The dying art of free throw shooting has risen up to bite yet another team (Illinois is one that comes to mind fast) as the disparity between free throws in the Indiana-UCLA matchup is the most glaringly insidious factor that determined the outcome of the game. This is not to say that the referees were awful and that they gave the game to UCLA. Far from it, in fact: I felt the referees were pretty fair and called a good game (although the first-half travel against Stemler when he was pushed was a bit unfair). No, this disparity--and thus, loss--rests squarely on the shoulders of the Indiana Hoosiers, who shot 10-21 from the free-throw line for a paltry 47.6%. UCLA shot 78% (I don't have the numbers in front of me, but it was something like 18/23).

Hidden in that stat was the numerous "front end" of 1-and-bonus shots that the Hoosiers missed. Both Earl Calloway and D.J. White clanked first-shots in the first half. By the time the second half rolled around, I closed my eyes when Indiana stepped to the free-throw line. So did the Big Bad Wolf: the three little pigs were building a fortress with the bricks the Hoosiers tossed up from the free-throw line.

Credit Ben Howland and UCLA, though. Their tough-as-nails defense held the Hoosiers in check most of the night, especially from beyond three. The good scouting probably told them that, if you get into Rod Wilmont's head, his normal deadly accuracy will be disrupted. And it was. It wasn't until the second half of the second half that Indiana finally hit a three pointer. Also, UCLA limited Indiana's fast-break points. Several times, though, Calloway rushed down the court for what seemed like an easy lay-up, only to see it fall short. I feel for him: I've had those nights where, no matter what, it just seems like the ball won't get over the top of the rim. In the second half he adjusted and used the backboard more. Too bad this was his last game. Armon Bassett is a quality player, but he might be more of a shooting guard. Hopefully Eric Gordon or another quality player in Indiana's monster class for next season can play an effective point. Hopefully D.J. White will stick around for another year (his defense against UCLA was, in a word, awesome).

But, this game belonged to the free-throws. If the Hoosiers had been able to stick half of their misses (and I'm not going to think about the missed second shots on the 1-and-1s), then with a minute left, it would have been Indiana that was up five or seven points, and UCLA would have been forced to foul. As it was, one lousy inbounds and UCLA's steady shooters at the line put the game away. What a difference a couple of days makes. Indiana missed its first free-throw against Gonzaga, and then went on to make the rest for the game. With UCLA? Not so much.

Perhaps Sampson should take a trip to Milan, Indiana, and find that back yard Jimmy Effing Chitwood was shooting his free throws on when coach Norman Dale came out to recruit him. Maybe a little Hoosier mystique will help the Hoosiers next year.

Also, congrats to Butler for making it to the Sweet Sixteen. Congrats also to Purdue for giving Florida a bigger scare than I'm sure they thought possible. Boo to Notre Dame. And a hiss. You guys were pathetic. Absolutely pathetic.