Hoosiers Come Along Just as Scheduled for Sampson

By David Scott - January 20, 2007

HARTFORD - In some regards, Indiana’s 77-73 win over UConn, was nothing more than the result of some intuitive scheduling by the Hoosiers and first-year coach Kelvin Sampson.

“When I first saw (this game) on the schedule, to be honest with you, I wasn’t enthralled,” said Sampson, who inherited some of the dates, including this one, from the prior Mike Davis regime. “But I told our kids after the (71-64 win over Iowa on Tuesday) this game was a great opportunity for us. Good bad or indifferent, this was a great opportunity and I think that attitude helped us approaching this game.”

It certainly must have, as the Hoosiers came out on fire, hitting on their first five 3-point attempts and jumping out to 19-6 lead, less than six minutes into the game. UConn recovered, tied the game at the half and kept it close throughout the second stanza. But in the end, it very well may have been the schedule that won out.

“We’ve played an unbelievable schedule,” said Sampson, whose Hoosiers are now 14-4, winners of five straight and knocking loudly on the Top 25’s door. “This is by far the most athletic team we’ve played, but such a tough schedule early on really helped us. We played at (then-No. 10/11) Duke (loss) in November, at Kentucky (loss), Butler in Indiana (loss) and at Ohio State (loss). All those opportunities helped us get tougher.

“There were opportunities to win all those games, every one of them, but maybe we didn’t know how to win. You’ve got to develop a resolve about you and a toughness and we’ve done that.”

The youthful Huskies of Jim Calhoun, on the other hand, have not quite done that yet. Calhoun took a more cautious approach in his out of conference scheduling, cautious of a roster that is dominated by freshmen and sophomores. The Huskies cruised through a mostly cupcake non-conference slate at 11-0, but have since gone 2-5 (2-3 in the Big East).

The difference in scheduling philosophies, on Saturday - despite UConn’s best all around effort in many weeks - was palpable.

“Our kids are competitive now,” said Sampson. “There’s confidence and it validates what we’re doing (as a new staff) and it gives us credibility. It also shows who you are, too.

“You can play teams for as long as you want and blow them out, but at some point, you have to find out who you are and you can’t find out who you are until you get in these type of situations.”

Calhoun took the opposite approach with his squad and now, with a dozen regular season games left, his team is on much shakier footing than Sampson’s.

“I’m very proud of the way we played,” said Calhoun. “I don’t know if we made steps forward or backwards or sideways, but they played their butts off and gave us every bit of effort we needed, they just now have to give us a little better basketball and make foul shots (UConn was 17 of 28 from the line).”

Sampson knows a bit more about his team. “We’re young too, but we have enough seniors to help us. And games like this help us come tournament time - to go on the road, in a tough environment and hold it together and execute is important. I’m really, really glad we won the game the way we won it.”

That “way” of Indiana’s has as much to do with the opponents it played early on, as the way it is playing mid-season.

Posted by David Scott at 08:05 PM on January 20, 2007

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