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COLUMN: Better than a banner


Freshman guard Bendu Yeaney dribbles the ball up the court. Yeaney and the Hoosiers won the WNIT Championship and will now look to next season without Tyra Buss and Amanda Cahill.  Ty Vinson Buy Photos

The next time the IU women’s basketball team plays in Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall, there’s going to be a few distinct differences both on and above the court. 

Above the court will be a new banner, hanging in the rafters in honor of the Hoosiers’ WNIT Championship win over Virginia Tech on March 31.

On the court, IU will be without the two greatest players in program history in Tyra Buss and Amanda Cahill for the first time in four years. This year’s improbable run to the WNIT championship turned out to be a nearly perfect ending to the iconic duo’s story in Bloomington.

But that story is over now, and it's already time to move on for Coach Teri Moren and the Hoosiers.

However, where the Buss and Cahill's chapter ends, a new one begins, headlined by the likes of freshmen Jaelynn Penn and Bendu Yeaney. 

For most teams, losing two All-Big Ten players that have transformed the program like Buss and Cahill have would spell doom, but that’s not the case for this team. 

In fact, they’ll be even better than they were this season.

Nothing was greater evidence of that more than the development of their freshman guards in Penn and Yeaney throughout their first season in Bloomington. There was a point in time this year that the two didn’t look ready to adjust to the college game. Thrusted into starting roles right from the beginning of the season, they looked uncomfortable with the ball in their hands as secondary ball-handlers alongside Buss. 

Fast forward three months, and Penn and Yeaney have skyrocketed in confidence on both ends of the floor. Penn turned into a deadly pull-up jump shooter, coupling an extremely quick first step with a smooth shooting release. When she would get hot from the field, she was better than any other player on the floor, including Buss and Cahill.

Penn developed as an on-ball defender throughout the season as well. With more consistency and fewer missed assignments defensively, she could be one of the best all-around players in the Big Ten, if she isn’t already.

Freshman guard Jaelynn Penn runs the ball up the court. Penn contributed 13 points to the overall 71, defeating TCU's 58.  Ty Vinson Buy Photos

As for Yeaney, she has already developed into one of the best defenders in the conference, always being matched up with the toughest defensive assignment for IU by the end of the year. Offensively, she thrives when things get physical and has a knack for finishing inside by going up strong and taking advantage of her freakish athletic ability. 

Adding a more fluid jump shot to her offensive repertoire would only enhance Yeaney’s versatility as a scorer, but she and Penn already give the Hoosiers one of the conference’s best combinations of two-way threats regardless.

Although having two young star players in the making is nice, what might set IU up even better for the coming season are two players that didn’t even see the floor for them this year.

Losing Buss and Cahill will leave major holes at the point guard and forward positions but Moren has had two replacements, who sat out the 2017-18 season due to NCAA transfer rules, waiting on the sidelines.

Filling in for Buss at point guard could possibly be sophomore Ali Patberg. Patberg, a transfer from Notre Dame, was a local high school legend at Columbus North High School and was named a McDonald’s All-American in 2015. Despite struggling with injuries after tearing her ACL her freshman year at Notre Dame, she could emerge as a much-needed primary ball-handler for the Hoosiers.

Meanwhile, coming from Pittsburgh is junior forward Brenna Wise. Wise is coming off her sophomore season in which she led the Panthers in both scoring and rebounding at 14.3 points per game and 6.4 rebounds per game. Much like Cahill, she is a double-double machine that can guard either forward position.

Although Buss and Cahill’s influence on this team can never be downplayed, IU will be in a good position to move on with two replacements that already have plenty of experience at the college level and have spent a year learning Moren’s system.

“There hasn’t been a day where Brenna and Ali haven’t been on the court by themselves or with a coach getting an additional workout in before practice,” Moren said. “They just don’t take days off, which is a great example. What that tells us is they’re rare. With those two kids, you can’t keep them out of the gym, and that’s what you want."

The IU women's basketball team's players, including then-sophomore, now junior, forward Brenna Wise, react to a basket during the Hoosiers' game against the Michigan State Spartans on Dec. 28 at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall.  Evan De Stefano Buy Photos

A potential starting lineup will obviously be headlined by Penn and Yeaney, who both will presumably take major steps in their development over the offseason in preparation to take on much larger offensive roles next season. Add in veterans like Patberg, Wise and junior forward Kym Royster, and IU has one of the most intriguing lineups in the conference going into next season.

Couple that group with high-profile incoming recruits such as Grace Berger and Chanel Wilson along with a bench group, featuring freshmen Keyanna Warthen and Linsey Marchese and sophomore Bre Wickware, that improved down the stretch this year and Moren will have a much deeper rotation than this season’s team as well.

No matter what happens next season, Buss and Cahill’s influence on the program will never be undone. That WNIT banner will always remain the physical evidence of that.

However, if the Hoosiers do in fact get better and possibly make another NCAA tournament appearance without those two wearing the cream and crimson next year, that too will be a testament to their legacy. 

Penn and Yeaney could not have laid a solid freshman foundation without the mentoring of Buss and Cahill. The program as a whole could not have reached the extreme high of winning a WNIT championship in front of a home crowd of a program record 13,000 fans if Buss and Cahill hadn’t set out to change the culture of IU women’s basketball when they came to Bloomington four years ago.

Because of Buss and Cahill, everything is going to be alright for IU for years to come.

“Jaelynn and Bendu now know what the expectation is and what an everyday practice looks like for us,” Moren said. “They don’t need Tyra and Amanda leading the way anymore. They know. That’s exactly the lesson you want taught to those young kids.”

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