INDIANA 73, OKLAHOMA 64: The five-time champion Hoosiers advance to their first final since '87 behind their bench.
By BRIAN LANDMAN, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times, published March 31, 2002
ATLANTA -- In the waning moments of Saturday night's national semifinal game against Oklahoma, Indiana coach Mike Davis sat somberly on the bench with his head in his hands.
You might have thought his team was down.
It wasn't. Instead, his surprising Hoosiers had the game in their hands and were putting the finishing touches on an improbable 73-64 win before an announced crowd of 53,378 at the Georgia Dome to advance to Monday's NCAA final.
"I was just thanking God for this opportunity," Davis said.
The Hoosiers (25-11), the first to reach the final with double-digit losses since Kansas in 1988 and the second No. 5 seed to reach the final (Florida did it in 2000), go for their sixth championship, their first since 1987.
"It's a blessing to be here; there's a lot of great coaches and they never get here," said Davis, in his second year after replacing IU icon and coaching legend Bob Knight. "Like I said before, it's the players. They're playing unbelievable."
Junior point guard Tom Coverdale, who sprained his left ankle in the closing minutes the previous Saturday against Kent State, started against the tenacious Sooners, but his ankle was thickly padded and he hardly resembled the South Region's most outstanding player.
He couldn't seem to drive the ball to create opportunities for his teammates or create space for himself on the perimeter for open shots. He finished with three points, four assists and five turnovers.
All-America sophomore forward Jared Jeffries didn't have a banner night either. He sat out the final 11:12 of the first half with two fouls and finished with eight points and eight rebounds.
But junior forward Jeff Newton, an Atlanta native, came off the bench to score a career-high 19 on 7-of-10 shooting and added 6 rebounds, 4 blocks and 2 assists. And freshman point guard Donald Perry, sophomore guard A.J. Moye and seldom-used junior center George Leach combined for another 22 points, 9 rebounds, 2 assists and 3 blocks.
The Sooners' bench had 12 points and 13 rebounds.
"They're very good basketball players," Oklahoma coach Kelvin Sampson said of the largely unheralded Hoosiers. "Sometimes we get carried away with athleticism. But they're really good basketball players. ... Just give Indiana a lot of credit. Big possessions. Big plays. They made them all down the stretch, and we didn't."
After leading 34-30 at the break, Oklahoma (31-5), the No. 2 seed in the West Region and a prohibitive favorite to reach the final, fell behind 60-53 when IU senior guard Kyle Hornsby hit his team's sixth straight 3-pointer of the half.
IU was 2-for-7 from beyond the arc in the first half, a far cry from the 15 of 19 it made against Kent State.
"The difference was they were in a matchup zone. The first half they were in a man and they did a good job of pressuring the wings," said Jeffries, who banked in a 3-pointer from the key to start the second-half barrage. "They went into a matchup zone to limit our inside touches, and a couple times they lost their man on 3-point shots so we got open looks."
Even with junior guard Hollis Price scoring six points on 1-of-11 shooting against senior guard Dane Fife and senior forward Aaron McGhee fouling out with 22 points with 4:40 left, the Sooners tied the score at 60.
"We'd been there before," Sampson said. "I thought we'd win the game from there."
But Newton followed with a layin, Perry hit a driving layup and Newton added two free throws for a 66-60 lead with 1:45 left. OU got as close as 67-62 before Perry made four free throws for a lead that left Davis strangely sedate. His reaction prompted Fife to approach him and ask what was wrong.
"I just said, "Coach. Get your head up, man. We're going to the national championship,' " Fife said. "He looked up and smiled."