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Friday, March 21, 2003
Updated: March 22, 3:11 AM ET

Final numbers favor Coverdale, Hoosiers

By Andy Latack
ESPN The Magazine

BOSTON -- Mo Williams' game is very similar to Tom Coverdale's game. It's identical, in fact. Basketball. That's their game. After that, well, the similarities pretty much come to a screeching halt.

Williams is a glitzy sophomore guard that leads Alabama in scoring and tattoo ink. His bald scalp gleaming under the FleetCenter lights, he was a brazen blur of whimsy and Wilson.

Coverdale is a stocky senior sporting a clunky ankle brace, a perpetual limp and the muscle tone of a trucker. His red hair is worn in the standard-issue Hoosier crew cut. A tattoo artist might refuse to take a needle to his iridescent skin.

But for 40 minutes on Friday night, Williams and Coverdale did have the same game. As in, a fantastic one. Indiana's 67-62 victory was a classic guard duel that started with a Coverdale 3-pointer 47 seconds in, intensified with a 3-point answer from Williams 19 seconds later, and never let up after that.

For being the type of player whose contributions sometimes don't show up in the box score, Coverdale's final line used up plenty of ink. He tallied 23 points, eight assists and eight rebounds, flirting with his first career triple-double. Coverdale got that line the hard way, fighting to use screens, drawing contact and scrapping for loose balls. Williams finished with a more one-dimensional 26 points (with one assist and two boards) and got that line the easy way, with effortless 3s, silken transition moves and machete-sharp slashes to the rim.

Because they're such polar opposites, Coverdale-Williams had all the theater of a classic battle. Williams hitting a pretty pull-up J in traffic and staring daggers at the IU bench. Coverdale, grunting and flailing, clawing and hobbling his way into the lane time and time again until he heard a whistle, then hitting 12 of his 13 free throws. Williams draining a three just before the half to put Alabama up 35-24, then going airborne and chest-bumping teammates all the way to the locker room. Coverdale streaking, spring-loaded and fists pumping, to the bench for a timeout after his three assists and two rebounds trimmed that halftime deficit to four by 15:59. And finally, Williams missing his last -- and most crucial -- three of the evening with 11.9 seconds left and Indiana up 65-62.

"It was a little stagger screen for me, and I got a good look," Williams said. "I just rushed the shot a little." When asked about his adversary, the dejected Williams offered only this: "Coverdale's a good player -- and you're not going to shut good players down."

After the game, Coverdale didn't admit to any one-upsmanship either. "I don't think I was trying to match him. I was just getting open looks and that opened some other things up."

One of the things it opened up was Coverdale's support staff.

After disappearing in the first half -- Coverdale had 16 of Indiana's 24 points in the first 20 minutes and no other Hoosier had more than three -- Bracey Wright and Jeff Newton combined for 29 second-half points. When Alabama's defense started keying on him, Coverdale killed the Tide in other ways, throwing six second-half assists, five of them going to either Wright or Newton, and also snaring seven boards in the second frame.

"When he plays that way, it's hard to beat us," said Indiana coach Mike Davis, who played at Alabama from 1980-83 and, thanks to his senior guard, is now 1-0 against his alma mater. "He's just a tough, hard-nosed kid."

Even though the two weren't guarding each other most of the night -- Alabama coach Mark Gottfried put Williams on Coverdale in an attempt to limit his penetration at the end -- like all good battles, there was plenty of toe-to-toe.

There was Williams, taking a long pass and going one-on-one with Coverdale in transition, drawing the slap and putting in a pretty finger-roll for the and-one. And then there was Coverdale, baiting Williams to slap at the ball in the final two minutes, drawing the foul and calmly hitting both ends of the one-and-one to put Indiana up four.

While Coverdale adapted the way he played to include assists and rebounds, Williams only adapted the way he scored. He did it from behind the arc -- four of eight, to be exact. He did it in transition, cutting backdoor for easy buckets as soon as his defender blinked. And the 6-foot-1 Williams even did it in the post, taking the 6-3 Wright to the block in the final minutes when Alabama desperately needed a bucket.

The only thing that didn't go his way was the last three. But from the looks of things in the first half, nobody expected it to come down to that.

So absent was any help from Coverdale's teammates that the senior guard, who averages 11.8 ppg, had passed that mark with 7:29 left in the first half on Friday. At one point, with Indiana clinging to a 23-22 lead about a minute later, Coverdale had 16 of the Hoosiers' points. Not to be completely overshadowed, Williams had 12 of Alabama's 22 at the same time.

"In the first half, the guys were tight -- and I was tight," said Davis, who switched Coverdale from shooting guard to point guard in the second half (a similar move sparked a 16-point rally in a Big Ten tourney loss to Illinois a week earlier). "They should've been up 15 at the half. Fortunately, Cov put us on his back and carried us."

Hey, that's another thing he and Williams have in common.

Andy Latack is a writer for ESPN The Magazine and frequent contributor to ESPN.com.



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