Finalists Show Escape Claws

Times Staff Writer

BOSTON -- Jared Jeffries is in the NBA. Dane Fife is in the CBA. And the 4-year-old son of Coach Mike Davis was in the locker room eating corn chips instead of sitting on his father's lap during the postgame news conference.

But enough of last season's cast remains for Indiana to create some March magic again.

The seventh-seeded Hoosiers, who made a run to the NCAA final as a fifth-seeded team last season, defeated Alabama, 67-62, Friday night in a Midwest Regional first-round game at the FleetCenter.

The only significant addition to the Hoosiers is freshman Bracey Wright, and his 17 points in the second half keyed a comeback from an 11-point halftime deficit. Wright was scoreless in the first half, when senior guard Tom Coverdale had 16 of his 23 points.

"In the second half I found my rhythm and started driving to the basket," Wright said. "In first half, I felt myself kind of tight."

Tight also was an apt description of how the officials called the game, especially in the second half. Indiana made 22 of 26 free throws, including two after a technical foul was called on Alabama Coach Mark Gottfried.

"They got aggressive and went to the line," said Maurice Williams, who scored 26 points for the 10th-seeded Crimson Tide. "That was the difference."

The loss completed a dramatic fall for Alabama (17-12), which was ranked No. 1 on Dec. 30 after a 9-0 start. The Crimson Tide lost by 20 points to Vanderbilt in the first round of the Southeastern Conference tournament.

"Once you get ranked No. 1, nobody can ever start a conversation without bringing it up," Gottfried said. "We were the first Alabama team in the history of the school to be ranked No. 1. So I am absolutely proud of this team."

Alabama had a chance to tie when Williams came off a screen and took an open three-point shot with eight seconds left. But it missed, Coverdale grabbed the loose ball and two long passes later, A.J. Moye dunked.

So daunting was the prospect of facing his alma mater, Davis claimed he hadn't slept in five days. "Any time you are playing your former school, it's important," he said.

Indiana (21-12) will face No. 2-seeded Pittsburgh on Sunday, a game Coverdale compared to the Hoosier upset of Duke in last year's tournament. "We can't come out cold," he said. "We'll get beat."

Coverdale was last seen in the NCAA tournament gamely trying to lead the Hoosiers through the Final Four despite a severely sprained left ankle. With his fiery red hair, red shoes and Hoosier red-trimmed uniform, he had his swagger back, drilling three three-point baskets in the first eight minutes.

The rest of the Hoosiers had little impact in the first half. Wright, the team's leading scorer at 16.4 points a game, did not score and Indiana did not make a field goal after Coverdale's three-point play with 7:29 left.

Alabama led, 35-24, at halftime, but Coverdale moved to point guard in the second half and a 13-2 Indiana run tied the score, 39-39, with 13:40 to play. The Hoosiers battled on the offensive glass and for loose balls, one of which led to a three-pointer by Wright to stretch the lead to 58-51.

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