BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — Their eyes tried to avoid the stands, where it seemed as if they were engulfed by a sea of red. They tried not to pay attention to the other bench, where Bob Knight stood in all his glory, screaming at the referees. And they refused to be seen gawking at those championship banners hanging from the rafters.
So maybe the University of San Diego isn't exactly your national power, but the Toreros were undefeated with five victories. They are favored to win their conference. Certainly, it was no time to be intimidated.
"When we came out," said Dondi Bell, USD center, "we wanted them to respect us as much we respect Indiana."
The Toreros managed to garner Indiana's respect, and maybe for a while they put a scare into them, but these are the Hoosiers, and they proved just why they never have lost a game in the 17-year history of the Indiana Classic.
Overcoming an early deficit, Indiana ripped the Toreros, 91-64 for the tournament title, delighting the crowd of 16,746 at Assembly Hall who drove off in their cars with bumper stickers reading, "And on the eighth day, God created the Hoosiers."
"They're definitely the best team we've played this year," said USD forward Pat Holbert, in a bit of an understatement.
The Hoosiers (7-1) also say they came away with newfound respect. The only thing they knew about this team entering the tournament was that its coach, Hank Egan, was best of friends with Knight.
But friendship or no friendship, Knight made it clear quite early to his players that this was no time to get sentimental. In fact, when the Toreros took a lead midway through the first half and still owned a 27-23 lead with 6:59 left, Knight had become downright testy.
"It was nice to be up like that," said Holbert, who equaled his career high with 27 points and made the all-tournament team. "But we knew Indiana wasn't going to fold up, not with 16,000 fans screaming for the Big Red."
This also happened to be a time when a kid by the name of Calbert Cheaney, a 6-foot-6 sophomore forward, introduced himself to the Toreros.
Certainly, they will remember the name.
There he was, one minute, hitting a 12-foot jumper from the right side. Then came a 26-foot shot from the wing, and a dunk coming in from the left baseline. And he followed it with another 18-foot jumper, a layup from the right side and a layup from the left side.
By halftime, Cheaney had 17 points, making seven of 10 shots. He finished the game with 25 points, and was selected Most Valuable Player of the all-tournament team.
Just how good is this sophomore?
"He's the best player I've ever played against in my life," said Holbert. "He is one hell of a player."
Yes, that includes a couple of All-Americans by the name of Bo Kimble and Hank Gathers of last year's Loyola-Marymount team.
"He was a handful to deal with, let me tell you," USD Coach Hank Egan said. "He's a gifted player at both ends of the floor. He has so much versatility, he had us chasing him all night.
"When he's done, he'll be as good as anyone who's played here."
And, as if Cheaney needed any assistance, the Toreros complied, with 6-foot-9 Bell spending all but 13 minutes of the game on the bench. When Bell went to the bench with eight minutes left in the half, the Toreros still owned a 22-21 lead, which turned into a 44-31 halftime deficit.
But whatever opportunity USD had of recovering, vanished as quickly as it took Bell to pick up his fourth foul 59 seconds into the second half. He returned three minutes later, and in another three minutes, he was back on the bench for good.
"It was very tough to sit there and take," Bell said. "I love playing in situations like this, when you're the underdog, and no one's rooting for you.
"We'd love to have a place like this ourselves."
For now, it can only remain a dream.