They all remember it. Every one of the 10 returning players that walked off the court at Notre Dame in late March 2016 after being eliminated in the second round of the NCAA Tournament remembers how they felt. And it fuels them.
IU Coach Teri Moren said she can tell the season-ending loss to No. 1-seed Notre Dame has stuck in the back of her players’ minds. It would be easy for the team to forget if the Hoosiers’ roster had completely turned over, but it hasn’t. They have all five starters returning and most of the key bench contributors.
For Moren, the memories are a positive thing. After all, the Hoosiers won their first NCAA Tournament game in 33 years. Relative to recent history and expectations, it was a successful season. But even the bitter taste of how things ended will serve as a reminder of what it takes to get where IU really hopes to go this season.
“It was a disappointing loss to Notre Dame, and that’s a feeling that hasn’t left our team, and that’s what motivates and inspires us,” Moren said during IU’s Big Ten Network media day Wednesday. “It’s only just given us an enormous amount of motivation to make sure that the goal is to get back in the tournament and advance.”
With four seniors who played on last year’s squad, as well as graduate transfer Amber Deane, a senior guard who’s been to the Elite Eight with Dayton, there’s plenty of experience and leadership to go around.
Even the team’s two juniors, guard Tyra Buss and forward Amanda Cahill, have been starters since the day they arrived in Bloomington two years ago. Moren said the veteran leaders have taken to coaching up the freshmen on their own ambition.
“The freshmen have actually transitioned really well, and I think having that veteran group has just helped them out,” Buss said. “I think they can learn from us a lot and I think they have been in practices so far.”
If the Hoosiers are to advance to the Sweet Sixteen or beyond this season, it won’t be nearly as much of a surprise as last year’s success. On Monday, IU was picked to finish third in the Big Ten by both coaches and media.
Buss said last year’s somewhat unexpected trip to the Round of 32 was enjoyable because IU was able to come seemingly out of nowhere.
But now, the Hoosiers have a clear target on their backs. No one will take the court against IU expecting an easy game.
As the point guard and floor general, Buss said she knows a lot is expected of her. She and her teammates will be able to use last year’s March Madness experience to get themselves through tough challenges this year.
Expect Buss to be at the forefront of that effort.
“The point guard kind of has to tell everyone where to go and where to be at and when to get them the ball, so I think Coach Moren really expects that out of me,” Buss said. “Just to be that vocal leader and talk on the sideline during practices.”
Leadership, experience and talent will be clear strengths for IU this season. Those three ingredients seem like the perfect recipe for a successful team, but translating those factors into success is easier said than done.
The Hoosiers will need to blend all three strengths together to create the perfect balance needed to ensure a deep tournament run. Driving it all will be the memory of last season’s conclusion, but Moren hopes to use the loss to Notre Dame as a sign of what can be done, rather than what could have been done.
“After coming off such a great year last year, I think the expectations are high,” Moren said. “It’s a new season and what we accomplished a year ago is behind us. We know that we have a tremendous amount of work still to do.”
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