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Tom Crean hopes to see changes in big game against Kentucky

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Tip-off: Kentucky at Indiana, noon Saturday

Radio: 100.1-FM

TV: CBS

Friday, December 11, 2009 - 10:24 am

BLOOMINGTON - The numbers don't lie. Indiana's Tom Pritchard is a foul waiting to happen. He is the LeBron James of fouls. No one spends more unwanted time sitting next to assistant coach Bennie Seltzer.

Now comes No. 4 Kentucky with its foul-forcing dribble-drive motion attack.

Oh, no.

In eight games, Pritchard has 30 fouls. He has fouled out in two of the last three games, and might have fouled out in all three if he had played 26 minutes instead of 25 against Maryland.

Pritchard breathes and refs blow whistles. Wait. That would imply officiating unfairness or conspiracy and the truth is, Pritchard earns his fouls. He reaches. He plays defense with his hands instead of his feet. He stands straight up instead of bending his knees in a defensive stance.

And yet, coach Tom Crean stays with him. Pritchard has started every game. Crean calls Pritchard “snake bit.” He sees this 6-9 sophomore forward practice so well, want to succeed so much and then get into games and whistles blow and Pritchard sits and it's déjÀ vu all over again.

“It will come,” Crean says. “He's right on the cusp of being consistent again. We want him to be aggressive, but he has to be smarter.”

Pritchard understands. Here he comes, unshaven and sweaty from practice and weightlifting and film work. He says Crean has him defend guards in practice to teach him to move his feet more and play with more discipline and better position. He's talked to the coaches. He's watched the tapes.

Last year as a freshman Pritchard had it figured out enough to average 9.7 points, 6.4 rebounds and 29 minutes. This year it's 4.9, 3.3 and 17.9.

Pritchard's 30 fouls are 10 more than any other Hoosier, and in fewer minutes. He's had at least three fouls in seven straight games. He's had 14 fouls in the last three games.

“It's affected me,” Pritchard says. “It's keeping me out of games. I have to keep my head straight, keep my hands off guys, keep my knees bent, stay in a stance and stay in the game.

“Coach has got a lot of confidence in me and it's my time to prove him right.”

Saturday against 9-0 Kentucky would be a perfect time and opponent.

John Calipari's Wildcats personify instant turnaround. Last year under Billy Gillispie they were an NIT team. This year, with Calipari and the nation's No. 1 recruiting class, title talk rocks the state. In the last six days they've beaten North Carolina and Connecticut.

Kentucky is young (no senior starters), but it is youth with a difference. Freshman point guard John Wall is a one-and-done kind of player. Some experts project him as the NBA's No. 1 draft pick next summer (can you sell hello New Jersey Nets?). He averages 19.0 points and 6.3 assists. He scored 12 of the Wildcats' final 15 points - for a career-high 25 - in Wednesday's 64-61 win over Connecticut.

Two other freshman starters - 6-11 Demarcus Cousins and all-blur guard Eric Bledsoe - also have pro potential. So does junior forward Patrick Patterson. He nearly entered the NBA Draft last season, but decided to return for a national title shot and further development. He averages 16.6 points and 9.4 rebounds as a follow-up to last year's 17.9 and 9.3.

IU doesn't have that kind of veteran leadership, but it does have freshmen Maurice Creek (15.6 points, 4.1 rebounds) and Christian Watford (13.3, 6.5), sophomore Verdell Jones (12.5, 3.8), junior Jeremiah Rivers (7.3, 5.8, 4.4 assists) and the confidence that comes from a high-profile win.

Here are four reasons for Hoosier hope - IU (4-4) is coming off its best performance ever under Crean by beating Pitt; this is Kentucky's first true road game; a sold-out Assembly Hall; Crean's relentless drive.

“We are asking so much of them,” he said. “We are so demanding and I'm not going to back off of it.”