Underdog role is good fit for Hoosiers

Coverdale limping, Indiana at ease, hopes upset road goes through Oklahoma

`We're always outmatched'

Final Four

March 30, 2002|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

ATLANTA - How many surprises can Indiana's feisty Hoosiers squeeze out of this NCAA tournament, anyway?

Having already bagged a No. 1 seed in the South Regional, Indiana will try to sneak past a No. 2 seed, Oklahoma, in tonight's first national semifinal at the Georgia Dome.

The fifth-seeded Hoosiers warmed to the task yesterday when coach Mike Davis embraced his team's underdog role and guard Tom Coverdale left wide-open the door of uncertainty about his gimpy left ankle.

Asked about Final Four matchups, Davis was coy.

"Well, I don't think we match up with anyone in this tournament individually, other than Jared Jeffries," the second-year coach said. "We have tough guys - Tom Coverdale, Dane Fife and [Jarrad] Odle.

"[But] when it comes to matchups, we're always outmatched. When it comes to heart and fighting, will to win, I think we have the advantage."

Oklahoma (31-4), a school with a football reputation, is a touchdown favorite (seven points) against the Hoosiers (24-11). That's due in part to the uncertainty that surrounds Coverdale's ankle. He rolled it in the final 10 minutes of the South final for the second time this tournament and hasn't been able to push off since.

Frustrating? You bet.

"The most frustrating thing is to think we all worked so hard to get to this point, and there is a chance I won't be able to go out there with my teammates and give it my best shot," Coverdale said. "You know, there's still a chance. Hopefully, I'll be out there, competing with them tomorrow."

Will Oklahoma fall for it? Not likely.

"Yeah, I think he's going to play, too," Sooners guard Hollis Price said, endorsing the opinion of teammate Ebi Ere. "He's probably hurt, but this is a once-in-a-lifetime chance right here, the opportunity to try to win a championship.

"You know, Indiana's a tough team. Coverdale only scored two points [actually, six] against [top-seeded] Duke, but they still found a way to win that game. It's not going to be an easy game. We appreciate that everybody is telling us that we're going to win. But we know that we've got to stay focused."

Whatever advantage Oklahoma gained when Coverdale injured his ankle was lost when Sooners point guard Qaunnas White turned his ankle in a workout Thursday.

Yesterday, White insisted he, too, would play with his injury.

"I am feeling all right," he said. "I kind of tweaked it at practice the other day, but I have had a lot of ice and treatment. ... I am just worrying about going side-to-side. I can sprint. I ran earlier, so it is feeling pretty good."

The Sooners can always turn to Price, who has played the point before, if White's injury turns out to be significant.

The Hoosiers will turn to freshman Donald Perry, who struggled against Kent State after Coverdale went down. Their fallback position is the 6-foot-10 Jeffries.

Indiana is across the board in its support of Perry.

"All he basically has to do is get it past half-court and enter it into the wings," Fife said. "The main thing we're missing without Tom is a tremendous ability to put the ball in the hole. If Tom gets hot, it's very hard to stop our team.

"I think Donald Perry can definitely fill the void. He can guard people. He really needs just to stay focused. He can't get caught up in being a freshman and playing like a freshman."

Perry, who almost certainly will have to play appreciable time, could have his hands full against Oklahoma's relentless defensive pressure. But the Sooners aren't about to throw a full-court press on him just because he's a freshman.

"Game plan doesn't change," Price said. "I don't think we worked on the press all year long. ... We're not going to pick up [the ball] full-court and try to press those guys because they're too good of a team to just turn the ball over in a full-court situation."

The Sooners are also wary of Indiana's three-point prowess. The Hoosiers nailed 15 of 19 three-point shots - including the first eight they took - in the South final. Oklahoma's perimeter defense, with Price, Ere and White, is among the best in the country.

This is a game that should come down to defense and perhaps which team fouls less inside. Oklahoma will have to decide whether to put 6-10 Jabahri Brown or 6-8 Aaron McGhee on Jeffries. McGhee has picked up at least four fouls in five of his past eight games.

Sixth man Daryan Selvy, a senior captain, will get a fair share of the dirty work guarding Jeffries, too.

"He is very versatile," Selvy said of Jeffries. "Coach [Kelvin Sampson] wants me to hold [down] Jeffries tomorrow. It is going to be very hard to hold him, but I am going to do my very best. It is going to take a team effort."

Jeffries said he expects to see a lot of Brown, with a double team from Price. The Hoosiers invite the double team down low.

"We want teams to double-team us," Davis said. "That's our strength. He's an unselfish player. He'll pass the basketball. That creates opportunities for other people."

And maybe one more surprise.

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