Wyatt swings at No. 1, but Hoosiers survive
March, 24, 2013
By Eamonn Brennan | ESPN.com
DAYTON, Ohio -- On Sunday, it took until the final five minutes of Indiana's 58-53 third-round win over Temple, but it finally happened: Victor Oladipo and the Indiana Hoosiers decided they had seen about enough of the Khalif Wyatt Show.
Can you blame them for pushing it off until the last possible moment?
Wyatt, Temple's star guard, saw the UD Arena as a stage — a "big stage," he said, a place for him to show the world what this former two-star recruit was really about. For almost all of Sunday's game, Wyatt shoved his way into that spotlight and provided a virtuoso performance in every sense of the term.
He clapped. He chirped. He chatted. He smiled — he smiled a lot — and stared down Indiana's bench and occasionally told the Hoosiers-heavy crowd to be quiet. Wyatt marshaled everything in that herky-jerky old-man game of his and took dead aim at Oladipo and Cody Zeller and top-seeded Indiana.
"That's what you want as a basketball player," Wyatt said. "The whole world's watching. The stadium's packed. Most of them, or all of them, are Indiana fans.
"You get a chance to shut everybody up. That's fun for me."
Wyatt finished with 31 points on 12-of-24 shooting from the field — including 9-of-12 from inside the arc — many of them impossible-to-defend floaters and I'm-coming-right-at-you fadeaways. It was a captivating and even historic performance. How so? Wyatt's 31 points made him only the fourth player in the past 10 seasons to score 30 points in the round of 64 and the round of 32. The other three? Kemba Walker, Jimmer Fredette, Stephen Curry.
The only thing separating Wyatt from those recent March luminaries? They won their opening two tourney games. Wyatt didn't -- because Oladipo began guarding the Temple guard the full length of the court, face-guarding him, constantly preventing him from catching the ball. In the final 6:30, Wyatt didn't score a single field goal and got to the free throw line just once, and the Owls couldn't keep Indiana from nudging over the finish line in the closing moments of the game.
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesTemple's Khalif Wyatt dominated Indiana for much of Sunday's game, making 9 of his 12 shots from inside the 3-point line.
"It really became about, if he can't catch it, he can't shoot it," Indiana coach Tom Crean said. "So let's do everything we can from the beginning [of every possession] not to let him get it."
"It was really hard for me to get the ball," Wyatt said.
Indiana had to make its customary share of big late plays to escape with a win — Christian Watford had to make a massive block on Anthony Lee on what should have been an easy dunk in the final two minutes, and Oladipo had to ice a wide-open 3 on Indiana's closing possession to finally break away, if only slightly, at the last possible moment.
IU also needed a questionable late call in the open court when Wyatt, crafty as ever, seemed to anticipate Oladipo's crossover and appeared to strip him cleanly. The officials blew for a foul, and Wyatt sprinted away, repeatedly mouthing a not-safe-for-print opinion of the call.
Wyatt smiled then, too, and again a minute later, when the game was officially out of reach, just after Oladipo subtly shared something in the Temple guard's ear.
"Words of wisdom," Oladipo said.
"He's a really cool dude," Oladipo said. "He was underrated just like I was. I feel the same pain he does -- I have the same story he does."
Not quite. Wyatt's story -- the story of the smooth, swaggering star who took the biggest swing of his life at one of the best teams in the country in the final game of his career -- ended in those final six minutes Sunday. Oladipo and the Hoosiers' story, one that will continue against Syracuse in Washington, D.C., on Thursday, one they hope ends atop a ladder in the Georgia Dome, remains unfinished.
Oh, but what a chapter to add. And what a guest star.
"It was fun while it lasted," Wyatt said.