INDIANA'S ASSEMBLY HALL can be a hot house for any opponent, a hell hole for any visitor, and that was just the harsh reality that was driven home earlier this season when No. 1 Kentucky and then-No. 2 Ohio State both fell there to the Hoosiers. Now, on Wednesday, the 'Cats must wander into that daunting den, yet thinking of that only brought a smile to the face of forward John Shurna. "I think it's a fun place to play," he would say Tuesday afternoon. "Obviously, Indiana has such a rich basketball history and their fans are passionate and they have a great team this year. So it'll probably be even louder than it has been in years past, which is fun. It's always exciting to play in an environment like that.". . .
THAT KIND of environment, in fact, is just the picture he drew up in the long ago, back when he was a kid and visualizing himself on center stage bathed by the klieg lights. "I just think, I feel when you imagined plays in your head and things like that, you imagined a packed crowd, a packed house," he said, explaining why he finds it fun to operate in a place like the Hoosiers' playpen. "When it's for you, it's obviously great. When it's against you, I think that's fun as well just because people are passionate about basketball and everyone's coming to watch your game. You just want to go out there and help your team win.". . .
ONE PLAYER who has done little to help the 'Cats win this year is sophomore guard JerShon Cobb, who has missed a dozen games due to injuries. The first was an after-effect of his off-season hip surgery, and the second was a back issue that arose in their game with Illinois back on Jan. 4. "When I used to run, pain went down my leg," he would say on Tuesday, explaining the consequences of the latter. "It's kind of like a disc thing, but I don't think it's as bad as a disc. It's better now. Now it's just getting back in shape, getting in rhythm. But the pain is gone.". . .
HE HAS, Cobb also said, gone through full practices for two weeks now and is, when it comes to his health, good to go. "Obviously, it's the coach's decision (when he gets back into the rotation)," he then added. "But I'm ready to play whenever he's ready to put me in. Hopefully, it's Indiana. If not, the next game.". . .
BUT EVEN NOW, he finally said, he is not yet in game shape. "There is a little rust there because of conditioning and catching the rhythm," he allowed. "The guys are in a good offensive rhythm right now. So for me, it will be just coming in, moving without the ball, not trying to take the most shots and things like that. Just contribute to their rhythm.". . .
THAT RHYTHM, in fact, was evident even during the 'Cats Sunday loss to defensive-minded Purdue, whom they hit with 77 points. "Our offense is flowing really nicely," noted point Dave Sobolewski. "We're really enjoying ourselves on the court and playing really unselfishly, moving the ball, hitting open shots. We've been playing a little looser in the last few games, which is really good for us." To which the forward Drew Crawford added, "We are playing a little looser now because we're playing well. When you string together a few games where you play well offensively, it opens things up and you feel comfortable with your offense and with the shots you're taking. But that's one thing that you have to work on to do every game. You can't be uptight playing basketball.". . .
THAT RHYTHM and its effect were two reasons there were no dour visages as the 'Cats refined their preparations for the Hoosiers. The third reason for that, explained Sobolewski, was "We've still won three of our last four, and obviously that's always going to be good in the Big Ten to win three of your four games. So, nah. Nobody's down about the loss. We're ready to move forward and ready for the stretch ahead of us. We're excited for the opportunity.". . .
BUT THE 'CATS, to make the most of that opportunity, must certainly belly up on defense against the Hoosiers, who lead the Big Ten in scoring while averaging nearly 80 points per game. "We have to stop them in transition," said Shurna, providing a mini-scouting report. "They like to fly the ball up the court, they have a lot of talented players, they have a big man who runs, and coach mentioned they're the best three-point shooting team in the conference. Obviously they have a lot of different ways they can score, so limiting them in transition's going to be big for us. It's going to be important to make them take contested shots, not give them any easy looks. Especially at home, it's important we have a defensive presence early on.". . .
IN ASSEMBLY HALL, where the Hoosiers have lost just once this season (to Minnesota), that is both an imperative and a daunting task. But again, noted Shurna, "It's February in the Big Ten, everyone wants to win, it's going to be fun. It's competitive. That's the way we like it." To which Crawford finally added, "It definitely is fun. It's always fun anytime there's an enthusiastic crowd. Sometimes it is fun having 10,000 people cheering against you, especially when you can win. It's a game with high stakes, so we're excited about it."