Christian Watford quietly getting it done for Hoosiers
By Andy Proffet Post-Tribune correspondent January 8, 2013 8:38PM
Iowa guard Devyn Marble, left, scrambles for a loose ball with Indiana forward Christian Watford during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Monday, Dec. 31, 2012, in Iowa City, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
The Big Number
Indiana has won three straight road games in Big Ten play.
Derek Elston didn’t play Monday night after “tweaking” his knee before the game.
“(So) we decided to hold him out,” Crean said. “So hopefully he will be ready to go here in a day or two and be ready certainly for Saturday (against Minnesota). I was thinking that he would have a really nice game tonight too.”
Updated: February 10, 2013 6:11PM
BLOOMINGTON — Cody Zeller gets the magazine covers and the loudest ovations when he’s introduced at Assembly Hall. Victor Oladipo has entered the spotlight as he’s challenged Zeller’s place as Indiana’s best player.
Without much fanfare, Christian Watford just keeps piling up the points for fifth-ranked Indiana. Just over a year after his ESPY-award winning shot to beat Kentucky at the buzzer, Watford’s been the Hoosiers’ primary scoring option early on most nights.
Indeed, in IU’s first two Big Ten games this season, Watford scored the Hoosiers’ first five points at Iowa and eight of the team’s first 10 points in Monday’s win at Penn State. He’s scored IU’s first field goal in eight of the Hoosiers’ 15 games.
“Well, we wanted to get him going, and we went to him right off the bat,” Indiana coach Tom Crean said after Watford’s game-high 16-point performance against the Nittany Lions. “We felt that was a big part of our game plan and he responded.
“The thing I like best about the way he played … we want him to hunt. We don’t want him to make up his mind early and say, ‘I need to shoot this’ or ‘I need to go here’ … we want him to hunt offense by movement and reading what’s there, and I think he did a great job of that. … And he was one of our catalysts defensively.”
Penn State coach Patrick Chambers agreed.
“He is a very good player. He can post up, shoot 3s, drive the basketball; he had a very good game,” Chambers said.
Watford is the active Big Ten scoring leader with 1,468 career points, but he’s often overshadowed — or at least overlooked — because of Zeller’s presence and Oladipo’s improved game.
Zeller (16.5 ppg) and Oladipo (13.3 ppg) are 1-2 in scoring for the Hoosiers, but Watford’s not far behind at 12.7 ppg.
And Watford is also the Big Ten’s best at the free-throw line, hitting 58-of-65 (89.2 percent). He was an 82.1 percent shooter at the line in his first three seasons (375-of-457). He’s also third in the conference in 3-point field-goal percentage, hitting 45.1 percent (23-of-51) from beyond the arc.
Whether the improvements translate into NBA success for the senior will come later. First, though, will be to see whether Watford and the Hoosiers can improve to 3-0 in conference play for the first time.
The last Indiana team to win its first three conference games was the 2007-08 team, which started Big Ten play 6-0 before finishing 14-4.
“I think we’ve got a group of guys that two games into the league truly understand that there is a lot of room to get better,” Crean said. “It’s one thing to know it as a coach … but it’s a whole different thing for your players to completely understand that, and that’s our key right now.”