In front of their largest, loudest crowd the Hoosiers have seen at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall this season, the IU women’s basketball team made their biggest, most profound statement of the year Thursday.
Its 73-51 victory in the third round of the WNIT over in-state rival Purdue marked the third time this season the Hoosiers have beaten the Boilermakers.
But this win meant a little more than just another postseason triumph in the Hoosiers’ quest to the NIT championship.
Not only was this the same Purdue program that has long held supreme over IU in their series against each other, it was the same one that knocked the Hoosiers out of last year’s Big Ten Tournament, ending any hope of Coach Teri Moren’s squad making it to the NCAA tournament last season.
More recently, it was also the same Boilermaker team that was constantly listed above IU on the bubble of this year’s NCAA tournament, despite the Hoosiers defeating them in both their previous matchups. First, it was 72-54 trouncing at home on Jan. 6 and then a hard fought 52-44 victory in West Lafayette on Feb. 12.
The distinction of being stuck behind Purdue on the bubble was one that left the Hoosiers with a bitter taste in their mouths and one that left something for them to prove as the two met yet again in the postseason.
“We’ve talked a lot about how disappointed we were that we weren’t even in the conversation of making the NCAA tournament,” Moren said. “I think it’s great for college women’s basketball and hopefully the tides are turning.”
Despite all the significance of Thursday’s game, Moren and the Hoosiers weren’t focused on any of it. There was one goal in mind: survive and advance.
“It’s a six-game series and this was step three," senior guard Tyra Buss said. "It just so happened we were playing Purdue again. We’ve played them two times so we were just really familiar with them.”
IU didn’t have to do anything new this time around. Like their two previous matchups, the Hoosiers buckled down defensively and forced the Boilermakers into bad shooting and costly turnovers. Purdue finished the night shooting just 21-62 from the field, coughing up 15 turnovers.
As the Hoosiers were able to corral a number of loose balls, it led to multiple IU runouts, resulting in the Hoosiers outscoring the Boilermakers 14-2 in fast break points.
“For the most parts, I thought we did a good job of outletting it out to me so we could start pushing and running,” Buss said. “Those transition points are really important. Our defense was transitioning into offense and I think that really got us pumped up.”
However, Buss was quick to point out that she and her teammates were even more pumped up from the energy and noise of the raucous Hoosier crowd. With 5,564 fans in the stands, it marked the first time attendance had amassed 4,000 this season and the largest women’s basketball crowd at Assembly Hall since 2012.
“That was an amazing crowd. We hope they keep coming back and giving us their support as long as we keep playing,” Buss said. “They just gave us an extreme amount of energy. It was really electric and it just made it really fun to play in there.”
With the Hoosiers moving on to the final eight of the WNIT in Bloomington on Sunday at 2 p.m. and another possibility of a loss marking the end of Buss and fellow senior Amanda Cahill’s storied careers, Moren reiterated the ultimate goal of her team.
She said the wins over Purdue and the first career victory at West Lafayette for Buss and Cahill have been nice this year, but they were all just steps in the Hoosiers furthering their season in the postseason.
“I hate to say it’s just another game because it is an in-state rivalry with Purdue,” Moren said. “We’re probably going to look back and have a lot of really great memories and Purdue is just going to be one of those that gets mentioned.”
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