Down on the bayous of Louisiana, Indiana won the tough Mideast Regional last week and in so doing proved it can play more than one kind of basketball. First the Hoosiers choked off Alabama with defense, keeping the talented Leon Douglas in check; then they used precise gunnery to riddle No. 2-ranked Marquette. The undefeated Hoosiers move into the NCAA finals at Philadelphia this Saturday armed not only with prestige but also with the comforting knowledge that they already have beaten two of the other teams, UCLA once (badly) and Michigan twice (narrowly). The other member of the elite group, Rutgers, is undefeated, but then Indiana has not had the pleasure of its acquaintance.
The Mideast was by far the strongest of the NCAA's four regionals, and Indiana fans could be forgiven for thinking the draw was rigged against their team. But the Hoosiers were equal to it. In the first game they changed their style but not their philosophy, shifting the thrust of their crabby defense from the perimeters to the middle to beat Alabama, the Southeastern champion, 74-69 on Thursday night. They doused Marquette's title hopes 65-56 in the Saturday afternoon final.
Both games followed the same pattern. In each Indiana broke on top and led most of the way although its stars were in foul trouble: Kent Benson against Alabama, Scott May against Marquette. Whenever the opposition mounted challenges there was the underlying feeling that nothing would really come of them. Indiana was a team that would not beat itself.
Neither Alabama nor Marquette could penetrate this aura of invincibility. On Thursday night the Tide had the ball and a chance at possible victory during the waning moments, yet never even got off a shot. Marquette disintegrated in the second half, frustrated and fragmented by Indiana's ability to forestall whatever stratagem the Warriors tried.
March 29, 1976
Marquette was also damaged when Coach Al McGuire, bickering with the officials, was twice hit with technical fouls. The first laid open his team's chest, the second tore out its heart.
With 12:54 remaining and the score 48-41 Indiana, McGuire berated Referee Jack Ditty and kicked the scorer's table. Indiana converted the ensuing technical and, of course, had possession of the ball. Slowing the pace, the Hoosiers spread the court and forced the Warriors from the protective crouch of their zone defense.
Even so, Marquette clawed back. With 25 seconds remaining and losing by only three points, McGuire begged for another T and got it, which is about as sensible as insulting your boss. Marquette did not even get severance pay. Indiana scored eight points in the final seconds, and at the game's conclusion Coach Bobby Knight, a renowned noncelebrant, was jumping and waving his arms like a third-base coach at a Little League game.
In the first game, Alabama loomed as a definite threat. Its big man, Douglas, was fresh from dismantling North Carolina and Mitch Kupchak's reputation, and the Crimson Tide looked bigger and faster at almost every position. "We might be the first team that has matched up against Indiana so well," said Assistant Coach Wendell Hudson. "And we're going to be motivated."
What happened was that the Hoosiers shucked their hounding defense, the one that sometimes reduces even the best ballhandlers to bobbling idiots, and fell back into the middle. Indiana installed the honor system, allowing Alabama's guards free access and open shots while turning Douglas into a facsimile of a park statue covered with pigeons. The Crimson Tide hit only 33% from the floor in the opening half, and Indiana mounted leads of 12 points in the first half and 12 again with six minutes gone in the second.
Despite his size (6'11", 245 pounds) and strength, Benson has not fouled out of a game this year, but with 13:23 left he picked up his fourth and was replaced. By the time he returned six minutes later, the Tide was only four points back.
The game's key play occurred with 5:11 remaining and the score 67-65. Douglas wound up on the front end of a fast break, with Benson looming before him. Leon put down his head, Benson put down his shoulder and Referee Booker Turner, upcourt and nearer to the dressing rooms than the play, raised his arm. The verdict: charging foul on Douglas, reprieve for Benson and no joy in Tuscaloosa.
Freshman Keith McCord gave 'Bama a short-lived 69-68 lead just under the four-minute mark, but that was all the points the Tide would get. May hit a clutch jumper with two minutes remaining to put the Hoosiers ahead to stay, and four free throws ended the scoring. Perhaps frustrated by his constant harassment, Douglas missed two free throws and put up a couple of shots that threatened the safety of the shatterproof backboard. McCord stumbled away Alabama's final chance with an awkward turnover, and that was that. "We prepared for them to play us one way and they played us another," moaned the losers' Anthony Murray.
That set up the much-anticipated showdown between Indiana and Marquette, which was fortunate to get by Western Michigan in its opener, winning 62-57. The Hoosiers ate up the Marquette defense from the start, hitting eight of their first 10 shots and 14 of 18 for a 30-19 lead. "They say you can zone them, but when we do they make everything anyway," Marquette's Lloyd Walton said later. Indiana's stellar shooting cushioned the loss of May, who was benched with three fouls in the first seven minutes. Sitting there, he thought back to last year when he was idled with a broken arm while Indiana lost to Kentucky in regional play. "Here I am again," he muttered.
Butch Lee put Marquette on top by 37-36 shortly after the start of the second half, but then May went back to work. Knight said afterward that the game was decided when Marquette failed to take maximum advantage of May's absence. The agile forward rammed in three straight jump shots and Indiana was around the corner. When McGuire picked up his first technical, the Hoosiers were down the street and out of range. Said McGuire later, "The next time we come to a tournament, I might stay away, because I'm bad for the team."
After the game, he went up to the temperamental Walton to embrace him and Walton brusquely shoved him away and raced into the dressing room. Afterward no one on the team would fault the coach's antics, however. "Man, that's Marquette and that's Al McGuire," said Bo Ellis.
The only trace of bitterness came from Walton, who still was incensed because May had used his chest for a springboard during a tangle toward the end. "If I ever get into a pickup game with him, I'm going to kick his head in," vowed Walton.
Thus the Hoosiers keep knocking 'em off as fast as you can set 'em up just as they've been doing all season. Two more remain—UCLA, which will surely be tougher than it was in November, and the Rutgers-Michigan winner. Still, after what Indiana faced in Baton Rouge, the rest may be duck soup.