Poor shooting from beyond the arc spelled doom for IU women's basketball, ending their NCAA tournament run with a 66-53 loss to the University of Arizona after making it to the Elite Eight for the first time in program history.
“We gave them some shots from the outside and they knocked them down,” head coach Teri Moren said. “Give them credit for stepping up in a big moment and making us pay.”
IU struggled this season with 3-point shooting on multiple occasions, averaging 28% during the 2020-21 season, but this matchup against Arizona proved to be more challenging. The Hoosiers did not hit a single 3-point shot Tuesday night, while they allowed Arizona to sink nine.
With a scoreless first three minutes of the game from both sides, Arizona senior guard Aari McDonald set her team’s deep shooting into motion after going 2-2 from the 3-point line in the first quarter. IU failed to stop McDonald after that.
“She is an elite player and she stepped up big time,” sophomore forward Mackenzie Holmes said. “She hit a lot of tough shots, and we tried to do what we could to slow her down. She got to the rim well. She can score at all three levels, so she is a tough player to guard.”
McDonald’s quickness and ability to pull up from anywhere behind the arc proved to be a defensive challenge for senior guard Nicole Cardaño-Hillary.
“She is as fast as a player that we have faced all year,” Moren said. “There is a reason she scored 2,000 plus points in her career. She is every bit as good as we thought she was. She is the reason why they are coming to the final four.”
McDonald continued to show her speed in the third quarter when Cardaño-Hillary grabbed a rebound off a missed 3-pointer from Arizona, but then McDonald lunged towards Cardaño-Hillary to rip the ball from her hands under the basket and put up a quick layup.
McDonald’s efforts carried her team to the win as she accounted for a high of 33 points, went 5-6 from the arc and also led her team in rebounds and assists with 11 and 4. Senior forward Trinity Baptiste was the next leading scorer for the Wildcats and had less than half of McDonald’s points with 12.
IU and Arizona’s styles of play inside the arc were similar in some aspects with both teams holding nearly the same field goal percentage and number of turnovers, which made 3-point shooting a determining factor of the game outcome.
Moren said the chances were there for her players to sink deep shots, but they never saw any fall as both Cardaño-Hillary and senior guard Ali Patberg went 0-3 for 3-pointers.
“Ali had some wide open threes that didn’t go down,” Moren said. “Nikki had a couple that didn’t go down. I was happy with the looks. I just wasn’t happy that we didn’t hit any of them. That would have been helpful.”
While the Hoosiers will not be advancing to the Final Four this year, both Moren and Holmes said they know they will use this stinging loss as an opportunity to get better so they can keep making history.
“This will serve us as a motivation for next year, and I know that we will take a couple weeks off to rest and get healthy, and then we will get right back to work,” Moren said. “That is just what we do in Indiana.”