FORT WAYNE – A month ago, Northwestern sent Indiana’s season into a downward spiral.
A 54-47 loss at Assembly Hall triggered a swoon in which the Hoosiers have endured six defeats in eight games, a postponement and an arrest of a once-touted prospect.
Indiana (14-11, 4-8 Big Ten) can begin to reverse its fortunes today at Welsh-Ryan Arena, where a struggling Wildcats team will try to repeat its defensive mastery of Jan. 18.
The first meeting was filled with offensive struggles for the Hoosiers, who shot 25 percent from the field, had only six assists, and saw Yogi Ferrell have as many fouls (two) as baskets.
Indiana never figured out how to attack Alex Olah, a 7-footer who blocked six shots and keyed a Wildcats defense that crowded the paint.
There were far too many times we forced things that weren’t there, Hoosiers coach Tom Crean said. They have very good physical strength. They can switch well, which always adds to the intrigue of their defense. They really try to shrink the court.
It was a stunning upset just four days after Indiana had beaten then-No. 3 Wisconsin.
In the rematch, Crean is tasked with finding something that works offensively against Northwestern’s size and intensity.
You have to be prepared for how slow they want the game to be, Crean said. You have to do everything in your power to try to get some tempo. You can’t settle.
After postponing Tuesday’s home date with Iowa because a nearly 50-pound steel plate fell at Assembly Hall, Indiana has had six days off to recover from an 82-64 shellacking at Purdue.
At 12-15, Northwestern owns the Big Ten’s worst record and has lost four in a row to slip to 5-9 in conference play.
Any venture outside Assembly Hall is a challenge to Indiana, which is 1-6 on the road and running out of time to build an adequate postseason résumé.
Backup center Hanner Mosquera-Perea, charged with two counts of DWI on Feb. 14, remains suspended indefinitely, leaving undersized players such as Jeff Howard and Devin Davis to play behind Noah Vonleh.
When Vonleh encountered foul trouble at Mackey Arena, Crean went to a zone defense, a look that might come in handy against Northwestern’s league-worst 3-point attack. From behind the arc, the Wildcats are first in frequency (573 attempts) but last in accuracy (30.5 percent).
A zone tends to pressure shooters to deliver. When Indiana uses it and stays active, the tactic can produce results, especially with Ferrell’s defense at the point of attack.
Other than strategy, Indiana acknowledges a need for more urgency. The slump has left Crean’s bunch with plenty of ground to make up.
You need to get after it, Crean said. You need to work at it, in the sense of positive energy and fuel that.
The Hoosiers may not dwell on the revenge factor, but a trip to Northwestern represents an opportunity to stop the bleeding against the team that opened the wound in the first place.