Unlike a year before, IU women’s basketball didn't win its final game. It didn’t end with its seniors walking away as champions. It didn’t end with confetti pouring onto the Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall court as the team celebrated a WNIT championship.
Instead, it ended with a loss. A 91-68 loss to the No. 2-seeded University of Oregon in the second round of the NCAA Tournament sent IU home with much less celebration.
But the Hoosiers also go into the offseason with fewer question marks than it did after its WNIT title. The 2018-19 season saw IU Coach Teri Moren's program continue to trend up.
“The NIT experience was great to win a championship, and to hang a banner in Assembly Hall was a terrific experience, but that was not our goal,” Moren said. “The goal was to get into the NCAA Tournament.”
The team lost two of the program’s most influential pieces in Tyra Buss and Amanda Cahill after winning the WNIT.
The two departures left many fans wondering where the team would go from there. Transfers Ali Patberg and Brenna Wise were expected to attempt to fill the voids, but after both sat out the 2017-18 season, there was no certainty that the two could play up to a Big Ten level.
“We did some unexpected things — things that our fans and spectators probably didn’t know we were capable of,” Moren said. “I’m just really proud of how this team has stayed connected.”
The doubters were quickly silenced as Patberg led the team in scoring this season with more than 15 points per game, and Wise averaged north of 12 points per game.
Patberg was able to run Moren’s fast-paced offense, and Wise was a consistent threat to stretch the floor while also ranking seventh in the nation with a free-throw percentage greater than 91 percent.
“Everything is important,” Patberg said. “Every practice, every game. I learned that personally, and I know my teammates learned that.”
IU will be losing senior center Kym Royster, but she will be the only starter the team will need to replace next season.
This year, Moren won’t have to find transfers to be the replacements. IU will have sophomore Linsey Marchese and freshman Aleksa Gulbe available as both saw significant minutes this season.
Moren will also have five-star recruit MacKenzie Holmes and three-star recruit Arielle Wisne — two players that are taller than Royster — at her disposal next season.
“We’re fortunate enough that we’re going to return all these kids except for Kym Royster,” Moren said. “The chemistry is there. The love for each other is there. It’s just that we’ve got to get better individually as players.”
Alongside Patberg, IU will still have guards Jaelynn Penn and Bendu Yeaney, who will both be juniors next season.
Yeaney, who was injured in the third quarter of the loss to Oregon, was consistently given the assignment of guarding the opposing team’s best scorer. Penn struggled with consistency early in the season but showed why she’s been a starter in both of her first two seasons at IU with 39 combined points in the two tournament games.
“Just extremely proud of everybody,” Penn said. “We weren’t supposed to be here, so next year we’ll be back.”
It can be hard for a team to remain hopeful after a 23-point loss to end the season. But with much more stability this offseason than last, trips to the second weekend of NCAA Tournament play may not be far out of the picture for IU moving forward.
“Us getting in the tournament, that’s an expectation now for our program,” Patberg said. “Now that we have a taste in our mouth of what it’s like to play in the NCAA Tournament, we’re going to work hard to get back here.”
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