COLUMN: Indiana close to becoming team of old

After Friday’s practice, UK men’s basketball head coach John Calipari joked about ending the series with the ever-improving Indiana Hoosiers next year.

He seriously might want to consider this option, because for 30 minutes of basketball, Indiana looked like a Bob Knight-led Hoosiers team playing tough and seemingly not intimidated by a hostile road environment. UK’s final 19-point margin in an 81-62 victory on Saturday was deceiving considering the game included eight ties and 12 lead changes.

Indiana showed it was closer to returning to the glory days of Hoosier basketball and closing the dark chapter that was opened by former Indiana head coach Kelvin Sampson, now an assistant coach with the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks and who can’t coach in the NCAA again until 2013. What this means for UK, winners of three straight and nine of the last 11 in this border rivalry is that it might actually become more of a rivalry in the not-so distant future.

“I knew (Indiana head coach) Tom Crean would have his team ready, would exploit every weakness we’ve had because he’s a great coach…We won this game on a four-minute stretch,” said Calipari, whose team closed the game on a 25-5 run in the final 8:04. “Short of that, they played us, they exploited our weaknesses and they made plays. As I looked at it, I was just shaking my head.”

The Hoosiers helped contribute to their own demise by being held without a field goal for roughly the last nine minutes of play and not getting to the free-throw line as often as Crean said he would’ve liked. Sure, the Hoosiers lost steam in the final stanza of the game, but considering the past two season they’ve been running on fumes, this game indicated a marked improvement.

Sampson left the storied Indiana program decimated following his dismissal for major recruiting violations. When Crean began his first season, the 2008-2009 campaign, he had only two returning players—a little-used scholarship player and a walk-on—after four players graduated, four players were dismissed, two players left for other schools, and freshman Eric Gordon entered the NBA Draft.

Naturally, since Crean’s hire, Indiana hasn’t necessarily been in the discussion in a national context, but hey, a 16-46 record through his first two seasons in Bloomington is a fair enough reason for the lack of Hoosier-centered chatter.

At 7-2 this year, the Hoosiers seem to be a program on the up-and-up as they continue to restock the pantry with talented recruits.

Cody Zeller, brother of North Carolina’s Tyler Zeller (who shredded the Cats a week ago) and the 20th-ranked prospect in the nation according to, could have been used Saturday to slow down UK senior forward Josh Harrellson, who registered his second career double-double in the win.

For the Crean, the difference is not limited to the talent he is bringing into the program but the change in mindset from when he first took over.

“Well, they believed they were going to win and I guarantee that as much as we as coaches believed we could win, and as much as we tried to get them to believe they could win, when you see what it looks like (that helps),” Crean said. “That (pumped up) locker room before the game is a locker room I want to get used to. It’s what I’m used to as a head coach, it’s what I was used to as an assistant coach.”

UK junior guard Darius Miller said he hopes Indiana gets back into the national spotlight to renew this rivalry. He noted that the process has already begun.

“I think (Indiana) has gotten better every year,” Miller said. “They played us tough last year and they played us tough today…you can obviously tell they are going to get better and get back to where they were.”

Who knows? The Hoosiers might be one final stretch away from completing their return to prominence.

“We did things today that we certainly haven’t done before in our time here,” Crean said. “But there are certainly things that we have to do more of as we continue to get better.”