Emotions were everywhere for the IU women’s basketball team Sunday during the third quarter of its game against UC Davis in the fourth round of the WNIT Tournament.
The conflicting hand motions of seniors Tyra Buss and Amanda Cahill were evidence of the ebbs and flows of the decisive stretch in the Hoosiers’ 81-66 victory.
When the Aggies were able to cut IU’s 20-point lead down to nine with three minutes left, Cahill motioned her hands downward towards the floor.
She was telling her teammates to relax. They had this under control.
Minutes later, when Buss’ 3-pointer from the top of the key splashed through to get IU's lead back up to double-digits, she waved her arms back and forth in the air in celebration.
She was trying to get the crowd of more than 6,000 in Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall as fired up as she was in the moment.
“I play with a lot of emotion throughout the game, and that was just a big shot,” Buss said. “Even when they made a big run, our crowd just got really into it and got us going.”
It was a slow start for IU in the first quarter as UC Davis jumped out to a quick 7-2 lead. The Aggies attacked the paint early by feeding their leading scorer, 6-foot-4 junior center Morgan Bertsch, in the post.
However, the Hoosiers picked up the defensive intensity to go on a 14-3 run of their own, retaking the lead that they would never give up. Behind Cahill’s 10 points in the quarter, IU was able to hold a 23-15 lead after the first quarter.
In the second quarter, IU’s defense managed to get even better. Cahill, junior forward Kym Royster and freshman center Linsey Marchese teamed up down low to hold Bertsch to just one point in the quarter.
Like an aftershock, Bertsch's being locked up in the post sent the Aggies’ offense into disarray. A number of forced shots and untimely turnovers led to UC Davis struggling to gets shots up, which led to their shooting 3-9 in the quarter.
The Hoosiers went into halftime with a commanding 47-27 lead behind 18 first half-points from Cahill.
Defensively, the Hoosiers were able to hold UC Davis to just nine of 24 shooting while also out-rebounding them 24-11. The large rebounding margin would become a recurring theme in IU’s favor, as they wound up with a 44-28 difference.
“I think coming into the game, rebounding was a really big emphasis for us,” Cahill said. “Not only did we want to grab rebounds on the defensive end, which was expected, we wanted to steal a few on the offensive end as well. I thought we did a really great job of doing that.”
In the third, the Aggies clawed their way back as the Hoosiers had another slow start early on. While IU went scoreless for the first three-and-a-half minutes, UC Davis senior guard Rachel Nagel started to heat up from behind the arc. She hit three 3-pointers to help cut the IU lead down to 54-45.
That’s when Buss took matters into her own hands.
Her three that managed to hype up the crowd near the end of the third was just part of her 10 points in the quarter, and her game-high 30 points. She provided the shot in the arm that her team needed to outscore the Aggies in the final three minutes and take a 62-49 lead into the final frame.
IU’s resurgence carried over into the fourth, despite UC Davis's amping up the physicality late. The physical play helped the Hoosiers’ athletic freshman guards Bendu Yeaney and Jaelynn Penn come alive defensively. They took away the open looks for the Aggies’ shooters, forcing them into just 3-10 shooting from deep down the stretch.
IU Coach Teri Moren said her guards’ aggressive defense has been an important part of her team’s success late in the season.
“The one thing about those two kids is they’ll fight,” Moren said. “Even in practice, when we do drills where other guards have to post up on them, I love their mentality of not being afraid to get in there and battle.”
Following what has become the norm for the Hoosiers, the seniors shouldered much of the offensive load. Along with her 30 points, Buss grabbed seven rebounds, dished out five assists and racked up four steals. Meanwhile, Cahill finished with 24 points, 10 rebounds and five steals of her own.
Along with her excellent defense, Yeaney provided 12 points, seven rebounds and three steals as well.
While winning the rebounding battle by a hefty amount, the Hoosiers were dominant in every aspect down low. Fourteen of their 44 rebounds were offensive compared to UC Davis’ five. IU also outscored the Aggies 36-18 in the paint and 18-5 on second chance points.
The win also marked the first time the IU program has ever won four postseason games in the same year. It was the third time they have made it to the semifinals of the WNIT and the farthest they’ve gone in the current 64-team WNIT tournament set-up that was put into place in 2010.
However, Moren said she and her team are just sticking with their mindset of focusing on one game at a time.
“I know TCU and South Dakota play each other, and we’ll play the winner of those two. I don’t even know who’s on the other side of the bracket,” Moren said. “We just want to worry about our kids and focus on them and help them develop a gameplan that will help them be successful.”
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