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Last updated: Fri. Jan. 17, 2014 - 05:43 am EDT

IU's Robinson has gift of basketball freedom

Hoosiers set to host Northwestern

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BLOOMINGTON – Move over Yogi Ferrell, Will Sheehey and Noah Vonleh.

Stanford Robinson is the newest Cream and Crimson catalyst.

Suddenly Robinson, rather than Troy Williams, is the Indiana freshman on the move. He scores, rebounds and defends. He attacks the rim without morphing into a turnover machine.

Yes, that matters.

In his last three games Robinson has averaged 11.0 points and 4.3 rebounds. He has played 26, 22 and 24 minutes, all off the bench. He has three assists and three turnovers.

Repeat: three turnovers in three games. You can win with that, and the Hoosiers (12-5 overall, 2-2 in the Big Ten) are. They take a two-game winning streak into Saturday's home game against Northwestern.

Robinson is 14-for-29 from the field. He plays to his strengths, which means he drives to the basket rather than jack up three-pointers he likely won't make (he's 1-for-6 for the season).

Against a Wisconsin team that couldn't stop dribble penetration, Robinson drove for 13 points on 6-for-10 shooting.

“Yogi and Will told me that the lanes were open and to keep going because that's one of my strong points,” he said. “So with two of my leaders telling me to just keep going, I felt like I had the freedom to just be me.”

Or, as Sheehey said, “Stanford came off the bench and killed it.”

Coach Tom Crean wouldn't want it any other way.

“He's natural at (attacking the rim). He's got a gift of that.”

The gift includes defense. In the second half, when Badgers guard Traveon Jackson caught fire, Robinson slowed him down.

“He's got a lot of fight in him,” Crean said.

That fight helped IU rally from a 52-42 deficit.

“We took off,” Crean said, “and (Robinson) was a big part of that.”

Crean doesn't fear lineup changes, even if those changes seem, well, odd. Take, for instance, Tuesday's late-game decision to replace the 6-9 Vonleh with 6-5 Austin Etherington. With IU ahead of Wisconsin 71-67, it was a defensive switch to keep Vonleh out of foul trouble.

The problem – it matched up Etherington with 7-foot Badgers center Frank Kaminsky. Two things quickly happened: The Assembly Hall crowd groaned, and Kaminsky posted up Etherington, who had zero chance of stopping him. Kaminsky scored, got fouled and completed the three-point play.

A cynic would say, why not put in 6-9 Hanner Mosquera-Perea? Isn't he on the team for just such occasions? Yes, but Crean liked the way Etherington was playing better.

“I made a substitution late because we wanted to switch all five with no problem, and they went right inside to Kaminsky, and it hurt us,” Crean said. But the premise was going to be, we needed to switch everything. Austin was playing really well with that and going offense-defense with Noah.”

Crean quickly realized this was not the way to win.

“After that play I said, 'Noah, you have to bear down. You have to switch. If they try to iso you, you can't leave your feet.'”

So Vonleh didn't, the Hoosiers won and Crean avoided more harsh fan critiques.

“(Wisconsin) is good,” he said. “They force you to change constantly. Unless you are just stellar and are having a great night, I don't think you can beat them one way. You can't beat them one way on offense and you certainly can't on defense. Somebody might, but nobody has. We had to mix it up.”

Crean mixes at full-steam-ahead pace, and if it sometimes goes wrong, well, wait a second because something new is coming.

So you have former starter Jeremy Hollowell residing in doghouse limbo. He hasn't played in two games, and who knows when -- or if -- that will change. Starter Troy Williams played eight minutes against Wisconsin while the seldom-used Etherington played 18. There was even a two-minute sighing of walk-on -- and former IPFW starter -- Jonny Marlin.

“You have to execute,” Crean said. “Sometimes you have to make changes on the fly, and our team is growing and doing that.”

Now comes offense-challenging Northwestern. The Wildcats (8-10, 1-4) have lost five of their last six games, with the victory coming against Illinois. Under new coach Chris Collins, a former Duke assistant coach, it pushed No. 4 Michigan State hard enough for coach Tom Izzo to say it was the best defense the Spartans had faced all season.

The Wildcats are led by a three-guard attack of Drew Crawford (15.0 points and 6.9 rebounds), JerShon Cobb (11.7 points,4.3 rebounds) and Tre Demps (10.1 points).

Crean doesn't expect a Hoosier letdown.

“We're not going to watch this tape, have a pizza party and say, 'Wow, we couldn't have played better.' We're not.

“On any night anybody can win these games. Home, road, it doesn't make any difference. The league is that good. That's why it's so strong. We've got to keep building the confidence of why we're being successful."

pdiprimio@news-sentinel.com


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