Indiana reserves spot in final

Bench players spark Hoosiers to upset of Oklahoma, 73-64

Final Four

March 31, 2002|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

ATLANTA - In search of past glory, Indiana's unheralded Hoosiers extended their miracle March run to the final day of the season with one more stunning upset in the NCAA tournament.

Last night's 73-64 victory over No. 2 seed Oklahoma in the national semifinals at the Georgia Dome sends the fifth-seeded Hoosiers into tomorrow night's championship game against Maryland, which ousted Kansas, 97-88.

And they did it the hard way, at that. Their best player, Jared Jeffries, managed just eight points after getting in first-half foul trouble. Their point guard, Tom Coverdale, played courageously on a sprained ankle until near exhaustion. And, for the first half anyway, their three-point sharpshooting abandoned them.

Indiana (25-11) turned to some unlikely heroes to dismiss the Sooners (31-5) and advance to its first national championship game since 1987, when it beat Syracuse for the fifth title in school history.

George Leach came off the bench in the first half to deliver two menacing blocks after Jeffries picked up two fouls. Jeff Newton came off the bench to deliver a career-high 19 points. Donald Perry came off the bench when Coverdale finally fatigued and helped guide the Hoosiers home.

But perhaps the most remarkable performance of the night came from starting senior guard Dane Fife, who hounded Oklahoma All-American Hollis Price into a 1-for-11, six-point game. Oklahoma's relentless defense got the advance notice, but Indiana's got the final word.

"I've said from Day 1, he's the best defensive player in the Big 10," Indiana coach Mike Davis said of Fife. "Hollis Price is a big-time basketball player. For him to go 1-for-11, I thought Dane had a lot to do with that."

Price didn't have a field goal in the first half, when the Sooners squeaked out a 34-30 lead. His only field goal came with just under six minutes left in the game, when he tossed in a three. By then, with Oklahoma trailing 57-53, it was too little, too late.

"Mainly I just wanted to keep in front of him," Fife said. "We had a pretty good scouting report on him. If I couldn't stay in front of him, I wanted him to go right.

"[But] I think he missed his share of open shots, which had nothing to do with our defense."

Even though the Hoosiers were out-rebounded 40-32 for the game, they made their presence felt inside once Oklahoma's big men incurred foul trouble. It took Jabahri Brown less than three minutes to collect two personal fouls, and he came back later in the first half to get a third.

Worse yet, the Sooners' biggest offensive threat, forward Aaron McGhee (22 points, eight rebounds) got in foul trouble immediately in the second half and finally fouled out with 4:40 to play.

Newton, a 6-foot-9 junior playing in his hometown, dominated the game down the stretch once Oklahoma's big men had to back off.

"That was the plan, to go at those guys because they're so aggressive and they get in early foul trouble," Newton said.

That foul trouble forced the Sooners out of their man-to-man defense and into a matchup zone defense in the second half. That fed right into Indiana's strength - it's long-range shooters.

After hitting two of seven shots from the arc in the first half, the Hoosiers drilled all six they took in the second. Each of their starters hit a three, in fact.

"After they went to the matchup zone, a couple of times they lost our guys for threes," said Jeffries, who sat the final 12 minutes of the first half.

The Hoosiers hit 25 of 48 shots for the game, eight of 13 from the three-point line.

Getting offense from the bench was vital. The Hoosiers finished with 41 bench points, compared to 32 from their starters. Oklahoma had just 12 points from its reserves.

"Our three guys off the bench are the reason we are where we are," Fife said. "They've been outstanding."

The big three off the bench were Newton, Perry and A.J. Moye, who chipped in nine points in 20 minutes.

Perry contributed a big three to break a 48-48 tie, and then navigated the team down the stretch when Coverdale threw a pair of errant passes.

"The turnovers were crucial, but when he started talking to the officials, it wasn't the time for that," Davis said about pulling Coverdale. "It was time for calm. I thought I'd put Perry in, let Coverdale calm down, and put him back. But Perry was playing well."

Perry, a freshman, scored 10 points, took four rebounds and hit five of six free throws to erase the shaky finish he had in the South Regional final against Kent State.

After Indiana rolled up a 57-50 lead with six minutes left, the Sooners came back to tie it at 60. Perry entered the game at that point, and moments later, Newton scored on a lay-in to make it 62-60. After an Oklahoma miss, Perry went in for a layup and four-point lead.

Price missed a three-pointer, and when Newton grabbed the rebound he was fouled. He hit both free throws, making it 66-60.

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