ON THIS DAY, In 1993, A Wounded Knee, and One Last Missed Opportunity For Great Group
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — For the majority of the 1975 Indiana basketball team that didn't win a national title but should have, there was the euphoria of going unbeaten and winning a national championship the following year. Same for the core of the 1980 team that won a title an NCAA title year later.
And as the 1993 season played out, this same screenplay seemed to be in the works, one act at a time. After the disappointment of losing to Duke in the 1992 Final Four, where an NCAA title was oh so close, that dream was all supposed to be rectified in 1993.
Why not? This Indiana team was loaded. Calbert Cheaney was a senior, and he would become the Big Ten's all-time leading scorer — and still is, even 27 years later. The other four starters most of that year — Greg Graham, Damon Bailey, Matt Nover and Alan Henderson — all averaged in double figures. Indiana had done that two years in a row, something that's never been done before at IU. Pat Graham, Chris Reynolds and Brian Evans were great off the bench, too, and effective starters here and there when need be.
And what a season they had. The Big Ten was loaded that year. Michigan had the Fab Five at its peak, Purdue had the Big Dog, Glenn Robinson, and a scrappy guard named Matt Painter. Iowa, Illinois and Minnesota all made the NCAA tournament.
And Indiana blew them all away, racing through the conference season with a 17-1 record, beating Michigan by two games — and the rest of the league by at least six. They were that dominant.
And that good.
And that special.
"They had no egos, which is saying something considering how highly publicized they were before they got there,'' former Indiana assistant coach Dan Dakich said a few years ago during on interview for the book "Missing Banners,'' written with my dear late friend, Terry Hutchens. "No one ever walked onto a college campus with more pub than Damon Bailey, and Alan Henderson was a huge recruit, too. Calbert Cheaney, too. These were really great, really smart kids, and they worked.''
Indiana was preseason No. 4, and were up to No. 2 after opening the season with four straight wins. They met No. 3 Kansas in an epic showdown at the old RCA Dome in Indianapolis, but lost in front of 31,000 people. They would lose to Kentucky as well, and just that one Big Ten game, in overtime at Ohio State.
Still, they breezed through the regular season 28-3 and were ranked either No. 1 or No. 2 in the country for the final nine weeks of the regular season, and that despite losing Alan Henderson to a knee injury and missing Pat Graham for months with a foot injury.
They were a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament and got to stay home in Indianapolis for the first two rounds, with wins over Wright State and Xavier. They beat Louisville 82-69 in the regional semifinals in St. Louis, setting up a rematch on March 27, 1993 with Kansas for another trip to the Final Four.
Henderson's ACL injury had been serious. He was injured in practice on Feb. 19, coming down funny during a drill and tearing a ligament.
"When Alan went out, I was just sick for him,'' Dakich said. "I really hurt for that kid. He had worked so hard and was so instrumental to what we were doing.''
Henderson opted to hold off on surgery, and even came back to practice with a huge brace on his knee a few weeks later. He played a few minutes in the final regular season game, and then tried to play a few minutes at a time during the tournament, but he had no quickness around the basket, which was a big part of his game.
Henderson tried to play against Kansas, but only lasted three minutes. Outside of Nover, Indiana didn't have much size, and Kansas was huge. They simply overpowered Indiana inside and doubled up on Cheaney whenever they could. Kansas would win 83-77 and, just like that, consecutive seasons of dominant Indiana basketball ended in heartache.
"To Coach (Bob) Knight's credit, he was never fully confident in putting Alan out there,'' Dakich said. "He didn't want to make it worse because he really cared about the kid. His mom and dad were all for it, and Alan really wanted to try. He actually did some good things in a few of the games, but he was so limited.
"It was the perfect storm with Kansas because they just fight you in the post so much. It wasn't right having him out there.''
Greg Graham (23 points) and Cheaney (22) did all they could, but it just wasn't enough. Kansas was just too tough, shooting 59.6 percent from the field.
Bailey had no doubt that Indiana was the best team in the country that year, and would have won it all had Henderson been that healthy. He was that good, and that instrumental to the Indiana attack.
"We went 17-1 in the Big Ten in a year when the conference was just loaded, and we won games by like 17 points a game,'' Bailey said. "What we were doing that year was comparable to what the '75 and '76 teams did, we were that dominant.
"It just didn't end the way we wanted to.''
It was a tough way for it all to end, if only because of the greatness of Cheaney. He deserved better.
"For all the Indiana players who have rings, it's a shame he doesn't have one,'' Dakich said. "He was that good, and you're not ever going to find a better person. He was an absolute pleasure to coach.''
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