The Associated Press
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. Ä An NCAA Tournament without Indiana? March Madness minus the General in the red sweater?
Unless the Hoosiers suddenly find their scoring touch, that could be the capper for a season that already has seen:
ù A 50-game home-court winning streak snapped.
ù Ten losses, the most since 1990.
ù A loss to Michigan in which Indiana shot less than 30 percent.
ù Play so poor that Coach Bob Knight had to deal with retirement talk and wondered out loud whether the new style of speed and three-pointers had passed him by.
''I hate the clock and the three-point shot,'' Knight said after a sloppy win over Northwestern. ''I wish I had retired seven years ago and wouldn't have to put up with that ... because I don't even like the game.''
Knight certainly can't like his position as his team bids for a 10th straight NCAA Tournament berth. With five games remaining Ä all but one against teams with better overall records Ä and no postseason conference tournament, the Hoosiers probably would have to finish at least 18-12 to make the 64-team field.
''I don't have any pretense that we're a national contender,'' Knight said after the loss to Michigan that snapped the nation's longest home winning streak at 50 games last month. ''I'd just like to see us develop an attitude toward play that makes us as good as we can be ... not game-by-game but possession-by-possession. Then it would be interesting to see what kind of team we have.''
How could a team that was 21-9 last season and a preseason Top 10 pick fall so far? The answer is in the offense. Except for senior Alan Henderson, Indiana has none.
Opponents have been able to protect the middle, knowing the Hoosiers have no consistent outside shooter. Since the end of December, Indiana has not won more than two consecutive games.
''Usually, Indiana can beat you to death from the outside, but they've struggled with that this season, as we all know,'' Michigan coach Steve Fisher said.
Henderson, a 6-foot-9 senior, leads the Big Ten Conference in field goal percentage at .594 and is second in scoring at 23.3 points a game. Forward Brian Evans, averaging 16.8 points and a team-high 3.2 assists, is the only other double-figure scorer but has been inconsistent.
As a team, the Hoosiers are shooting .474, their worst since Knight's first Indiana team went .454 in 1971-72. Even free throws, normally a point of Hoosier pride, are tough to make Ä .672 from the foul line is the worst since .644 in 1970-71, the year before Knight arrived.
In another loss at Michigan Sunday, Indiana shot .296 and Henderson was held to 12 points on 4-of-13 from the field. The Hoosiers' season average of 75.2
points a game is the lowest since they averaged 71.2 in 1984-85, the last time they did not make the NCAA tourney.
Knight was asked if the Hoosiers stay after practice to work on shooting.
''No, we don't allow them to shoot,'' he said sarcastically. ''We spend almost no time working on shooting. We practice our entrance and exit to the locker room.''
Had he ever seen a poorer shooting performance?
''If I have, I blotted it out of my mind,'' he said.
With the graduation of Damon Bailey, Todd Leary and Pat Graham, all effective outside scorers, Knight has gone with freshmen. Three of them, 6-9 Andrae Patterson, 6-7 Charlie Miller and 6-3 Michael Hermon, have started recently along with Henderson and Evans; a fourth freshman, 6-2 Neil Reed, started 14 games before a shoulder injury limited his playing time.
The season may have peaked in December, with an 80-61 victory over Kansas, then No. 3 in the nation and now No. 1. That and traditionally tight defense have been about the only bright spots.
''Definitely defense is the key,'' Henderson said. ''We know we don't have the kind of team that can just go out there and out-shoot somebody night in and night out. So we know that defense is where we're going to win games.''
Indiana's opponents are shooting only .408 from the field. And Henderson needs only 53 rebounds to break the IU career record 1,088 by Walt Bellamy, and eight blocked shots to break the career record of 204 by Uwe Blab.
Indiana's next game is Saturday at home against Penn State.
Even after a seemingly easy win at Northwestern three weeks ago, when the Hoosiers lost an early 19-point lead but regrouped and won by 21, Knight was clearly frustrated.
''We jumped off to that big lead, and then they just backed off. Now we've got to shoot the ball. We lost our patience. That's why I hate basketball anymore,'' Knight said. ''While I coached Ä I'm not even sure I coach anymore Ä the game was over when somebody did that. ...
''I think the game has passed me by, but I'll probably stay for a while and see if I can figure out a way to beat it.''
That set off speculation that the General might retire. Even his son, senior guard Pat Knight, said he wouldn't be surprised to see his father step down, although he didn't think it would happen soon.
''He's such a great competitor I don't think he would want to leave on this note,'' the younger Knight said. ''You can tell it is wearing on him. We are such a sporadic team.''
The next week, the coach backed off.
''Naw,'' Knight said, ''I'm not going to retire. ... I just made the comment that I liked the game the way it used to be.''
When the Hoosiers were winning.
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