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Fire and ice

Indiana often lives or dies on Wilmont's hot-or-cold shooting

March 17, 2007|Chris Dufresne | Times Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO — Today's NCAA West Regional game between No. 2-seeded UCLA and No. 7 Indiana could be decided after Roderick Wilmont's second shot.

People in the Hoosier know say that's usually how long it takes to determine if it's going to be a good day for Indiana, or a long one.

Wilmont runs so hot and cold his nickname should be "Faucet."

Bloomington folks should have been resting easy after Wilmont made his first two three-point attempts in Thursday's first-round win over Gonzaga.

Wilmont finished with 22 points in a 70-57 win, making six of 11 three-point shots.

Wilmont was hot against Gonzaga, but that's not always the case.

Last week, he made only one of 10 attempts in a first-round loss to Illinois in the Big Ten tournament.

In two games before that, against Northwestern and Penn State, he scored 52 points on his way to Big Ten player-of-the-week honors.

The game before that, he took a bagel (zero points) in 26 minutes against Michigan State.

Notice a trend here?

Wilmont's up, Wilmont's down -- and Indiana's tournament fate is riding along on this roller coaster.

Or is there more to it than that?

"It just comes down to the teams we're playing," Wilmont said Friday in the Indiana locker room at Arco Arena. "A lot of times, like against Illinois, we played them three times. They weren't going to give me any good looks; I knew that coming in."

But nine misses in 10 tries?

"A lot of those shots I usually hit," Wilmont said. "They just weren't going in. I just try to keep doing what I'm doing. And do other things if my shot's not falling. Get rebounds, get the hustle plays for the team."

Kelvin Sampson, Indiana's first-year coach, has lost plenty of sleep wondering which Wilmont will show up. Is coaching him as exasperating as it looks?

"Yes," Sampson said jokingly after Indiana's opening-round win.

Sampson then needled Wilmont for throwing an errant pass on a four-on-one break.

"He's unique, but what you see is what you get," Sampson said. "He's like that every day. He'll do things that drive you crazy. Those passes he makes sometimes. But you love his heart."

If you don't follow Indiana basketball on a daily basis, you might think that Sampson and Wilmont will take separate buses to the game.

Wilmont says they actually have a good relationship even though Sampson "sometimes gives me the eye."

Sampson's eye follows Wilmont up and down the court as it homes in on every nuance of his game.

"Do I take it personally?" Wilmont said in response to a question. "No. I'm a basketball player. Coach, he's been doing that since I met him. That's just my personality. He knows whatever he says I'm still going to go out there and do whatever I can to win the game.

"Me and Coach are cool. He just wants the best out of me. He keeps on driving me to become a good player."

It's not a war as much as it is a tug-of-war.

"He just likes to compete, like he's playing on the court also," Wilmont said. "All he wants to do is win. And I want to win also. That's why we are in the situation we are in now."

That "situation" is a 21-10 record, one NCAA tournament win down and UCLA (and possibly more) to go.

The transition from former coach Mike Davis to Sampson hasn't been easy for Indiana players.

Change can be difficult, especially for fifth-year players such as Wilmont, whose 12.8 scoring average trails only D.J. White's team-leading 13.8.

"It's been a struggle at times," Sampson said. "But it's supposed to be a struggle. It's not supposed to be easy."

So Indiana will play UCLA today, in a matchup of traditional basketball powers. Indiana fans will belly up to Bloomington bars to wonder which Wilmont they'll get with their two-drink minimums.

Indiana is 12-2 in games in which Wilmont has made at least three three-point shots. He has scored 15 or more points in 14 games this year ... and five points or fewer eight times.

Wilmont scored a career-high 31 points against Northwestern on Feb 28. He also was scoreless against Duke, had four points in 29 minutes against Indiana State, and was "PU" against IUPUI -- two points in 28 minutes.

What he'll do today against UCLA remains anyone's guess.

chris.dufresne@latimes.com

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