IU Coach Teri Moren took the cliché, “just one game at a time” approach as her 7-0 team prepared for the 6-0 Butler Bulldogs on Wednesday night at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall.
As repetitive as that phrase is, Moren uses it as a necessary attitude to make sure her team doesn’t get too far ahead of itself.
As there were some national whispers about her squad’s start to the season, Moren kept the focus on Butler and as a result, the Hoosiers defeated the Bulldogs 66-46 to improve to 8-0 on the year, which is the best start Moren has had to a season in her five years at IU.
Perhaps more impressive than the 8-0 start to the season is that IU currently has the longest active win streak in the NCAA dating back to last season with 14 straight wins.
Behind Moren’s relaxed “one game at a time” mantra is a deeper preparation from her staff that allows the Hoosiers to be prepared for each opponent they see on the court.
The streak started March 15 in the first round of the WNIT when Tyra Buss and Amanda Cahill were running the team. But, the improvements and identity of this team formed much earlier than that.
On Jan. 20, IU defeated Michigan State 69-65 and went on to win seven straight games after that. After beating Butler Wednesday night, IU has now won 23 of its last 25 games.
Even though 15 of those wins were largely due in part to two of the most prolific players in IU history in Buss and Cahill, the team’s preparation and play style has been similar.
On Wednesday, after IU got a rebound after a Butler miss, Moren frequently yelled, “Go! Go!” to junior guard Ali Patberg. She wants her team to play fast and push the tempo, especially against a team like Butler who plays zone defense. So, by pushing the ball it doesn’t allow the Bulldogs to get set.
“Every timeout I think coach was telling us to push the tempo and push the pace,” Patberg said.
Like Buss used to, Patberg obeyed orders and got the ball up the court fast. It resulted in 10 fast-break points. Times when the ball wasn't pushed were when IU would return to their constant reps in practice in how to break a zone defense — Patberg or sophomores Jaelynn Penn or Bendu Yeaney cut to the middle of the floor, drew attention and either dished it down low to the baseline or kicked it out to open shooters.
Moren and her staff emphasize watching film and a lot of sessions consist of watching opposing teams’ offenses and preparing how to play them defensively. When IU began its win streak last season on Jan. 20, Moren said they'd started to watch a lot more film.
The film sessions have carried into this season and on Wednesday IU held Butler to just 29.5 percent shooting.
“The great thing about film is that it doesn’t lie,” Moren said. “That’s our best tool for everything.”
Moren has said all season that everything starts on the defensive end. Defense creates turnovers, and turnovers allow the team to get out and run fast. IU forced 18 Butler turnovers and scored 14 points off those turnovers. When the team can’t force turnovers and push the ball, Patberg reverts to Moren who calls a half-court play.
The players bought in back in January and are still bought in to Moren’s system six months later. Even junior forward Brenna Wise said it’s just game-to-game after being asked about conference play in the coming month.
That formula — the attitude, the film-watching, the fast-tempo, the disciplined defense — has equaled a lot more wins than losses for IU.
Earlier this week when the National AP Poll was released, IU received five votes to be ranked in the top-25. The Hoosiers haven’t been in the top-25 since being ranked No. 23 to start the 2016-17 season. Also, in EPSN analyst Charlie Creme’s early season bracketology, the Hoosiers were given an eight seed.
But all that is just noise to IU. It’s just one game at a time.
“There is a bigger picture out there,” Moren said. “But it is game to game.”