-- Tom Coverdale is fondly remembered as the little hard-nosed, red-headed Indiana point guard who came up big in last year's NCAA tournament despite limping around the court on a severely sprained ankle.

After struggling through a season in which he failed to live up to not only his own expectations but also those of Hoosiers Coach Mike Davis, Coverdale put forth arguably the best effort of his career in Indiana's 67-62 first-round win over Alabama on Friday night.

The 6-foot-2, 185-pound senior scored 23 points, including 16 in the first half to almost single-handedly keep the Hoosiers within striking distance, and added eight rebounds and eight assists.

"If you'd asked me about a month ago about his hustle, it would have been a different story," Davis said. "But if he plays the way he's playing now, I'd take him over anyone."

Coverdale averaged 11.9 points his junior year in a supporting role, and he was expected to step up and become more of a scorer in his final season with the departure of Jared Jeffries to the NBA. However, Coverdale's offensive production actually fell off to 11.8 points per contest, and he also wasn't as accurate with his three-point shot as he had been over the previous two seasons.

His play was inconsistent, and he struggled through a nine-game stretch toward the end of the season in which he scored in double-figures just twice.

"It was definitely an up-and-down year for me, but if we can make a run in the tournament again, everyone will forget about that," said Coverdale, who helped lead the Hoosiers to the national championship game a year ago. "It's about rising to the challenge because this is what you play your whole life for."

Coverdale, an Indiana native who was forced to attend prep school in New Hampshire to show coaches he could play at the high Division I level, has been counted out before, but he has a knack for rising to the occasion -- especially on the national stage.

"I think it's because of the way I'm built," Coverdale said. "I know I don't look like a basketball player. People can think what they want, but I think it's an advantage for me. They don't think I can beat them off the dribble and I do it almost every game."

Coverdale was able to do it against Alabama's lightning-quick guards, Maurice Williams and Antoine Pettway. He made 12 of 13 free throws and made certain to be more aggressive, especially after a seven-game stretch in February in which he didn't attempt a free throw.

"He's back to being aggressive," Davis said. "The way he's playing right now, it's going to be hard to beat us."

No. 7 seed Indiana will get a chance to see if it can rekindle some of the magic it possessed a year ago during its run when it faces second-seeded Pittsburgh in the second round of the Midwest Region at 12:10 on Sunday afternoon.

Coverdale wouldn't want it any other way than being the underdog.

"A lot of people picked us to lose against Alabama, and it's the same thing with Pittsburgh," Coverdale said. "I'm used to proving people wrong and hopefully we can do it again."

A.J. Moye, left, Tom Coverdale enjoy Friday's win over Alabama as Indiana aims to return to NCAA title game.