Indiana 70, Gonzaga 57
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP)—Kelvin Sampson preached playing smart and doing things the right way with maximum effort at all times, benching anyone who couldn’t oblige.
His players bought into his no-nonsense system after hearing the first-year Indiana coach tell them again and again it eventually would pay off.
How about a second-round NCAA tournament date with Pac-10 champion UCLA as proof?
Roderick Wilmont scored 22 points and hit six of his team’s nine 3-pointers, and the Hoosiers avenged a loss to Gonzaga last March with a 70-57 victory Thursday night in a West Regional matchup pitted as one of the top first-round games in the tournament.
“I love the way we won the game,” Sampson said. “We’re not an offensive juggernaut. We had to play tough defense, make the extra pass and execute.”
Wilmont shot 8-for-16 and also added seven rebounds, three assists and a steal to extend his senior season for seventh-seeded Indiana (21-10), which was eliminated by the Zags 90-80 in a second-round meeting a year ago.
The scrappy Hoosiers, with their signature candy cane warmup pants and blue-collar swagger, have rarely played pretty basketball in the process to get this far—yet they showed none of that matters now. They’re alive for another game, snapping the Zags’ streak of four straight years winning their NCAA opener. Indiana will play UCLA, last year’s NCAA runner-up, in the second round Saturday night, the first meeting between the schools since the Hoosiers won their Elite Eight meeting in 1992.
“I think they have a better team than last year, and they were in the championship game,” Sampson said.
Band members chanted “Kelvin Sampson! Kelvin Sampson!” as the clocked ticked away in the final minute.
Indiana leading scorer D.J. White, who missed last year’s loss to Gonzaga because of a broken left foot, scored all but two of his 16 points in the second half as the Hoosiers quickly took control and built on their 34-29 lead at the break.
David Pendergraft had 12 points and five rebounds and Sean Mallon 11 points and six boards for 10th-seeded Gonzaga (23-11), which missed too many easy scoring chances and went one-and-out in its ninth straight NCAA appearance. The defeat ended a tumultuous season for the tiny Spokane, Wash., school, which only last month lost starting center Josh Heytvelt to a drug arrest and indefinite suspension from the program.
“This year is the toughest year by far since I’ve been playing,” Pendergraft said.
Gonzaga’s Derek Raivio—who came in averaging a team-best 18.2 points and is college basketball’s all-time career free-throw percentage leader at 92.7 percent (343-of-370) based on 300 made shots and 2.5 per game—faced tight pressure on the perimeter all game and finished with 12 points on 4-for-10 shooting and four assists in his final college game. He did not show nearly the emotion that do-everything star Adam Morrison did a year ago in the team’s heartbreaking 73-71 regional semifinal loss to UCLA—and ultimately his collegiate farewell before bolting to the NBA—when he lay sprawled across midcourt in Oakland.
“Some of our guys played passive,” a stone-faced Raivio said. “You know, it looked like it wasn’t meant to be. We had easy shots on the rim, but we just couldn’t knock them down.”
Wilmont swished a 3 and was fouled at the 17:10 mark of the first half, then turned toward his own bench and pumped his arms along his side in an attempt to get everybody going. Something sure clicked with Indiana, which had such success early exploiting Gonzaga’s man defense from the perimeter that the Zags switched into a 2-3 zone that was only slightly more effective at slowing the Hoosiers.
The sloppy, cold-shooting Bulldogs, coming off their seventh straight West Coast Conference title, never considered themselves the underdog. But they shot 34 percent and didn’t play to the high level that got them here with five wins in a row following a 78-77 overtime loss to Memphis on Feb. 17.
Gonzaga missed about a dozen shots from within five feet.
“That was the story of the game,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “Go down the list. I think we all had bunnies that we missed. I’ve just never seen us miss so many 2-footers. A lot of them were uncontested 2-footers, too.”
Indiana had an answer each time Gonzaga threatened—and the Hoosiers put it away after Gonzaga cut the lead to four with 11:22 to go.
“That’s one thing we’ve been struggling with all year: giving up a lot of baskets,” White said. “When it came down to that point, we just pulled ourselves together and kept running our stuff. We didn’t let it bother us and stayed focused.”
The teams combined for 12 first-half 3-pointers and Indiana wound up 9-for-25 from long range, 6-of-11 by Wilmont.
Earl Calloway threw up an airball on a jumper from the baseline in the opening 6 minutes, but Indiana’s first seven made field goals were 3s before Wilmont hit a baseline jumper 5:02 before halftime. Calloway wound up with 11 points, four rebounds and three assists.
The Bulldogs were certainly pining for another shot at UCLA, which overcame a 17-point first-half deficit in the 2006 tournament to beat Gonzaga. And the second-seeded Bruins did their part to make a rematch possible earlier Thursday, routing Big Sky champion Weber State 70-42.
Instead, the Zags are headed home.
“It probably won’t hit me for a day or two, once I realize we don’t have practice the next day,” Raivio said of his career being over.
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