Christian Watford could be just as key to IU’s success as headliners
By John Mutka Post-Tribune senior correspondent March 15, 2013 7:24PM
CHICAGO, IL - MARCH 15: Christian Watford #2 of the Indiana Hoosiers celebrates with teammate Victor Oladipo #4 after Oladipo dunked on the Illinois Fighting Illini during a quarterfinal game of the Big Ten Basketball Tournament at the United Center on March 15, 2013 in Chicago, Illinois. Indiana defeated Illinois 80-64. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Updated: April 17, 2013 6:15AM
CHICAGO — Indiana poster boys Cody Zeller and Victor Oladipo have hogged the headlines all season.
Deservedly so, according to Christian Watford, who qualifies as an unsung hero.
The lanky 6-9 senior prefers to stay in the background, but TV analysts like ESPN’s Dan Dakich often refer to him as a key player capable of jump-starting the Big Ten champions.
Friday, neither Watford nor Jordan Hulls connected from the field for 26 minutes, but the Hoosiers nursed a comfortable 12-point lead on their way to ousting Illinois in the Big Ten Tournament.
Making frequent trips to the free-throw line, Watford still wound up with 15 points and six rebounds while Hulls contributed game-highs of seven assists and three steals.
“That shows you how deep this team is,” said Oladipo, who capped a late-blooming double-double (12 points, 11 rebounds) with an electrifying 360 dunk with 1:37 left.
“(Cody and Victor) deserve everything they get, but when I’m playing well I feel like were rolling,” said Watford. “We’ve got a lot of players who can impact this game.”
Being a four-year veteran, Watford and the other seniors describe the Big Ten as predictable, but treacherous.
Traipsing through the conference schedule is like tiptoeing through a minefield.
“Everybody knows each other by now,” said Watford, slumping in a chair, surrounded by microphones in the IU locker room. “You can try to alter things, but there are no real surprises. That’s just the way it is.”
At least seven Big Ten teams are expected to receive NCAA bids Sunday. Iowa, having played well lately, could make it eight. Watford talked about what a grind it is to wade through the 18-game schedule.
“Toughest the conference has been in my four years,” Watford said. “There are no guarantees.”
After these four days in the United Center the NCAA Tournament could be a cakewalk, especially in the early rounds.