Fife's starring role: Hoosiers' stopper

Guard finds inspiration in classic movie

facing Dixon `toughest challenge'

April 01, 2002|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

ATLANTA -- Dane Fife's video inspiration is the basketball classic Hoosiers. His role is defensive stopper. And his method of locker room madness is designed to release his own tension as much as anyone else's.

For the past three games of the NCAA tournament, Indiana's senior has been the equalizer for the Hoosiers. In a span of 10 giddy days, Fife has effectively shut down three of the tournament's best shooting guards.

Next up: Maryland All-American Juan Dixon.

It's a matchup that could go a long way toward determining tonight's NCAA championship game at the Georgia Dome.

It's either the coup de grace in Indiana's marvelous run, or coronation time for the Terrapins.

Indiana coach Mike Davis said yesterday that Dixon is "probably the best player in the tournament."

"He wants to win the championship in the worst way, and you can tell," Davis said. "He's going to put Maryland on his back to try to do that. What we have to do is to make sure we play really good team defense and give Dane a lot of help."

At first glance, the 6-foot-4 Fife doesn't appear capable of slowing, let alone stopping, Maryland's brilliant floor leader. But his track record says otherwise.

He held Duke's Jason Williams, the national Player of the Year, to 6-for-19 shooting and 15 points in Indiana's dramatic upset in the South Regional semifinals. He limited Kent State's Trevor Huffman to seven shots, two baskets and eight points in the South final.

On Saturday, Fife harassed Oklahoma's Hollis Price into a 1-for-11, six-point outing that spurred Indiana's 73-64 victory in the national semifinals.

The composite numbers: nine field goals in 37 attempts (24.3 percent) worth 29 points, or about 10 a game for the three sharpshooters.

Ever defensive, Fife spent much of yesterday trying to downplay his accomplishments.

"I'm not really that much of a great defensive player," he said. "My advantage is I really try to play harder than everybody else, and that's really taking it to another level.

"My first three years here, I couldn't hit a jump shot to save my life, so I had to play defense to stay on the floor. I guess the bottom line is we just have a very solid corps of defensive players such as myself and Jared Jeffries, and guys who understand that it's going to take defense to win games."

Fife even deferred credit for making Price invisible.

"He just missed his shots," Fife said. "He got plenty of shots; they were good looks, too. I think he just ran out of gas. It seemed like nobody on their team wanted the ball toward the end of the game. I think our defense had them that frustrated."

Indiana's forwards heightened that frustration. The Hoosiers blocked eight Oklahoma shots, including four by 6-9 Jeff Newton and two by 6-11 George Leach, a pair of reserves. The 6-9 Jeffries, with 45 blocks this season, is an even larger force.

Fife acknowledged that the presence of the big men helps him play a more confident game.

"We've got three guys that can block shots like [Chris] Wilcox on Maryland," he said. "That's just a great feeling to know that as a guard, if we're tired, we can say, `Here, Juan, go ahead and go by me and see what you run into.'

"It's a good feeling to know that if we got beat, we've got another line of defense."

Fife draws further inspiration from Indiana's basketball tradition. A McDonald's All-American out of Clarkston, Mich., he relates to the theme of Hoosiers, the movie about a small-town Indiana high school team (Hickory) that wins a state championship against great odds.

"Every time I walk into the gymnasium, when it's all quiet, I have to yell the word `Hickory,' which they did in Hinkel Fieldhouse in the movie," he said. "That movie is just a major inspiration to me. ... I think it epitomizes Indiana basketball and what we're all about. Sometimes I just wish I was from Indiana so I could claim myself a true Indiana guy."

Yelling "Hickory" isn't the only unusual thing Fife does. He has been known to be something of a comedian in the Hoosiers' locker room.

"He's goofy," said freshman guard Donald Perry. "He's always cracking jokes and saying crazy things. I think he's really trying to loosen himself up because he's kind of nervous and is always biting his nails."

Fife concurs: "I try to stay psyched down. I have a tendency of getting too hyped up."

Junior Kyle Hornsby often takes the brunt of Fife's trickery.

"I call him `Psycho' because he's always doing off-the-wall stuff," Hornsby said. "He's usually in his own little world."

It's a fitting profile of a guy whose job is to stop the opponent's best shooter.

"I don't think anybody plays harder and with more guts than Juan Dixon," he said. "I think this is probably the toughest challenge that we'll face -- and me personally -- in our careers."

Lowest seeds in title game

Indiana, a No. 5 seed, is the seventh team seeded No. 4 or lower to reach the championship game since the NCAA tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985. The previous six went 3-3:


No. 8...Villanova...1985...Beat No. 1 seed Georgetown, 66-64

No. 6...Kansas...1988...Beat No. 1 seed Oklahoma, 83-79

No. 6...Michigan...1992...Lost to No. 1 seed Duke, 71-51

No. 4...Syracuse...1996...Lost to No. 1 seed Kentucky, 76-67

No. 4...Arizona...1997...Beat No. 1 seed Kentucky, 84-79 OT

No. 5...Florida...2000...Lost to No. 1 seed Michigan State, 89-76

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