When ESPN host Maria Taylor announced “Indiana University” as a No. 4 seed on the NCAA Tournament selection show March 15, there were mixed emotions.
The players and coaching staff will tell you they were ecstatic. IU finished second in the Big Ten with a program-best 16-2 record including hard-fought victories over then-No. 11 Michigan and then-No. 15 Ohio State. A No. 4 seed was the highest ranking a Hoosier squad has ever been in the tournament. Plus, they say waiting for your school to be called on national TV is just as nail-biting whether you’re safely in or sitting on the bubble.
But for those who have followed the historic season, hearing IU as a No. 4 seed was a little anticlimactic. Before the Big Ten Tournament, most bracketologists projected the team as a No. 3 seed who was sniffing the two-line. But a disappointing quarterfinals exit to unranked Michigan State collaterally squashed IU’s goal of winning the conference tournament and also dropped it a spot in the NCAA Tournament.
After the loss, the players were understandably crushed. But head coach Teri Moren re-drilled one of their preseason goals back into their minds: a deep NCAA Tournament run.
“Coach Moren said that we have to shelf it because we have much bigger games ahead of us,” sophomore Mackenzie Holmes said after the loss.
Shelf it they did as IU made its deepest NCAA Tournament run in program history. Let’s take a trip down memory lane and look back on the moments fans won’t forget.
March 22: 63-32 W over No. 13 seed Virginia Commonwealth University:
Junior guard Grace Berger led the Hoosiers in the opener. The Louisville native scored 11 points in the first quarter, mixing in her “go-to shot” in the mid-range jumper with attacking the basket. She finished with 20 points and eight rebounds.
Although the Hoosiers produced enough offensively, the storyline was their defense against the Rams. IU forced 14 turnovers and constrained VCU to a poor 23% field goal percentage, including 7-of-24 on layups. Once again, team defense guided the Hoosiers to victory.
The win set numerous records: the fewest points allowed from a Big Ten team in the tournament (32), IU’s largest margin of victory ever in the tournament (31) and the third advancement to the second round in program history.
March 24: 70-48 W over No. 12 seed Belmont University:
The Hoosiers met the streaking No. 12 seed Bruins after Belmont upset No. 5 seed Gonzaga in the first round. That victory extended their winning streak to 11, including three wins in their victorious Ohio Valley Conference tournament.
After an even first quarter, IU took control of the final 30 minutes. All five starters scored at least 9 points, led by Berger’s 17. Junior forward Aleksa Gulbe showcased her toughness by recording 15 rebounds – setting an IU tournament record.
The team’s energetic chemistry came full circle when the reserves entered the game. The starters went berserk on the sidelines after sophomore forward Hannah Novoroske and freshman Paige Price scored their first points in the tournament.
The Hoosiers had advanced to their first Sweet 16 in the 64-team tournament format.
March 27: 73-70 W over No. 1 seed North Carolina State University:
This was, without a doubt, IU’s most impressive victory of the season.
Following the theme all season, the Hoosiers were led by their starters. All five scored in double digits, led by senior guard Ali Patberg’s 17. Although IU was cold from beyond the arc at 2-of-14, it made up for it by dominating the points in the paint 42-28.
In a game with numerous runs from both sides, free throws from senior guards Patberg and Nicole Cardaño-Hillary stuffed NC State’s final push to continue IU’s postseason journey into the Elite Eight.
March 29: 66-53 L to No. 3 seed University of Arizona:
Playing four games in eight days finally caught up to the Hoosiers. After staying within striking distance through three quarters, Arizona capitalized on several IU miscues in the final 10 minutes to win by 13.
Although they lost by double digits, the Hoosiers did a lot of things right. They only committed nine turnovers, three below Moren’s ideal limit of 12. Arizona’s defense had been turning teams over all tournament long, including 21 against No. 1 seed Stanford University in the championship.
With all things considered, it was an extremely successful postseason for IU women’s basketball. Similar results are expected next season, if not better. A top 10 preseason ranking is reasonable with all five starters projected to be back.
Advancing to the Elite Eight might have been a shock this season, but with the program’s upward trajectory, it will be an expectation next year.