Christian Watford Archive
Alabama native says Bloomington is his home
By Justin Albers
Christian Watford’s path to Indiana wasn’t at all similar to that of the two guys who will be honored with him at Tuesday’s Senior Night at Assembly Hall. Unlike Jordan Hulls and Derek Elston, Watford didn’t grow up in the state. He joined the Hoosiers from Birmingham, Ala. and wasn’t a household name when he stepped on campus for the first time.
So when Indiana struggled through the first two years of Watford’s career, there wasn’t as much pressure for him to stay. It was unlike the situation of Hulls and Elston, who would be abandoning their state school if they bolted during the program’s turmoil.
Watford could have transferred. Other out-of-state recruits did. And he admits now that the thought crossed his mind at some point.
But Watford didn’t leave. Despite the external pressure to do so and the occasional questions from his family, Watford decided to stick it out. He and his family believed in the process.
“Well, it definitely comes to your mind, but you don’t wanna be one of those guys when the going gets tough, you just run,” Watford said. “I ain’t never been like that. I wasn’t fittin to leave because of no losing season or anything like that. If I woulda left, it woulda been because of something totally different.
“Of course, of course, of course [you get questions], that’s just part of it. But you gotta know you’re here for a reason. You gotta stick it out if that’s what you felt like from the beginning, and that’s how I felt. I had a good understanding of the coaching staff, so I felt like I was here for a reason.”
This game was supposed to be about Michigan State. At least that’s what we were led to believe. This was the Spartans chance to take control of the Big Ten race, to make a case for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, and to do so in front of their beloved hero, Magic Johnson.
Nobody, it seemed, wanted the Hoosiers to win this game. Few believed they could. Not the broadcasters, not the officials, and certainly not the raucous crowd inside the Breslin Center. It seemed unlikely the Hoosiers would win, given all the elements at play.
And yet, they did. When we get into March, when we get to Selection Sunday, this will be the game we look back at and say, ‘Wow, Indiana is an elite team.’ The Hoosiers have been impressive all season. They’ve won games against Michigan, Ohio State, and another one against Michigan State.
But in none of those games did the Hoosiers face the hurdles they did on Tuesday night in East Lansing. The odds were stacked against them all night. There were several questionable calls, at least one ridiculous no-call, and two late clock errors. Indiana trailed by four points with less than two minutes left. The game looked to be over, but it wasn’t.
No. 1 Indiana, 72, No. 4 Michigan State 68.
“For Indiana to come in on this night with the crowd as good as it was and the national audience,” said Michigan State coach Tom Izzo, “I think that speaks volumes of them. They deserve the credit.”
The Hoosiers have trailed late in games before this season. Butler and Wisconsin are examples. But Indiana didn’t win those games. The Hoosiers made runs, they scored buckets, but they didn’t win a game in which they were truly up against the wall late.
On Tuesday night, they refused to accept that result. Christian Watford, who looked rattled by a flagrant foul he picked up in the second half, was able to shake it off and make one of the biggest plays for the Hoosiers since his buzzer-beating 3-pointer against Kentucky last year. His 3-point play cut the Michigan State lead to one point and gave the Hoosiers new life.
“Christian was just a grown man the whole night,” said Indiana coach Tom Crean. “Air balling and having 15,000 people yell at him didn’t affect him one bit. We just kept coming. We had the foul situations and the flagrant, which I just trust, because those are high-level officials. He didn’t let any of that affect him. He just kept playing,”
And then there’s Victor Oladipo, who looks more and more like the National Player of the Year every time he steps on the floor. He wasn’t 100 percent, but it certainly looked like he was. No matter what happened in the game, Oladipo always looked like a guy who expected to win.
EAST LANSING, Mich. — Victor Oladipo (19 points, nine rebounds, five steals), Cody Zeller (17 points, five rebounds, two blocks), Christian Watford (12 points) and Jordan Hulls (12 points) met with the media following Indiana’s 72-68 win at Michigan State on Tuesday.
Watch and listen to their postgame comments in the embedded media players below:
Victor Oladipo has played so well for Indiana this season that he has entered the race for the national player of the year award.
So when Oladipo went down late in the first half of Saturday’s 83-55 win over Purdue, the Assembly Hall crowd and Hoosier Nation collectively held its breath. Oladipo grimaced, rolled around in pain, and then eventually limped to the locker room under his own power.
Oladipo did not return to the game, and Indiana coach Tom Crean said afterward that his star guard suffered a sprained left ankle. Oladipo’s status for Tuesday night’s showdown with Michigan State in East Lansing is up in the air.
“Right now I would go between precautionary and day-to-day,” Crean said. “He did some things in the back. I just don’t think any of us were comfortable enough to say, ‘let’s go do it.’ He wanted to go back in, but we just weren’t going to do that at that point. I don’t think that anybody felt, medically, that it was the best thing to do at that point.”
Oladipo was chasing Purdue’s Terone Johnson on a fast break when he sustained the injury. After looking at video replays, it appears Oladipo turned his ankle when trying to change directions just inside the free-throw line. Johnson slowed a bit in an attempt to avoid Yogi Ferrell, forcing Oladipo to change directions.
“I hope that he’s gonna be OK, he thinks he’s gonna be OK, but it’s gonna be a lot of time spent in this building getting it back to where it needs to be,” Crean said. “So wishful thinking will be that he’ll play, but we have to see how the next 24-36 hours turn out.”
Cody Zeller (19 points, nine rebounds), Will Sheehey (career-high 22 points) and Christian Watford (14 points) met with the media following Indiana’s 83-55 win over Purdue on Saturday at Assembly Hall.
Watch and listen to the press conference in the embedded media player below:
Quotes after the jump.
Sometimes he gets lost in the box score because of the seasons Victor Oladipo and Cody Zeller are having, but it’s becoming harder and harder to ignore Christian Watford.
A look at the numbers: Watford has scored in double figures in all 12 Big Ten games, and in 15 straight games overall. During that stretch, he’s pulled down at least eight rebounds on eight occasions, and he has two double-doubles. Dating back to last season, Watford has scored in double figures in 17 straight Big Ten games.
In Wednesday night’s 76-47 win over Nebraska, it was more of the same from the senior forward. Watford had 13 points and 11 rebounds in 29 minutes.
There are many reasons why the Hoosiers have returned to the No. 1 spot in the rankings, but Watford’s prowess on the defensive glass and acceptance of his role is one of the primary ones.
“He has been playing with a lot of confidence,” junior forward Will Sheehey said. “I think it comes off of his defensive rebounding. You get a couple of boards, a couple of assists, you get a good feel for the game from the start, and that’s when I think shots are going in for him.”
Earlier in the season, I criticized Watford for too often being a ball stopper. The Hoosiers displayed good movement on offense, but the ball would hit Watford’s hands and the movement would stop as he jab-stepped and contemplated which one-on-one move he wanted to go to.
That isn’t happening anymore.
“He’s come a long, long way,” said Indiana coach Tom Crean. “When he’s consistent, he’s really, really good. What he’s learned is he has really good teammates that he can make better and they can make him better. When they’re locked in defensively, great things happen.”
Along the same lines, Watford isn’t forcing shots. He’s making strong moves in the post and shooting open 3-pointers off the trail or on a swing. Watford made the biggest shot during the Crean era, but if he wants to be part of the ultimate prize, he had to make personal sacrifices.
If Watford keeps playing like he has recently, it’s hard to see Indiana losing anytime soon.
“He has high personal goals, and he’s a part of very high team goals,” Crean said. “And I think it’s coming in his play.”
Maurice Creek, Christian Watford and Will Sheehey met with the media following Indiana’s 76-47 win over Nebraska on Wednesday night at Assembly Hall.
Watch and listen to their postgame comments in the embedded media player below: