Indiana women’s basketball ended its regular season with a 67-64 loss to Maryland on Friday night in College Park, Maryland. It was the Hoosiers’ third consecutive loss, all of which came down to key plays in the final minutes.
So, what does this mean?
There was a lot riding on this one, and the consequences of the Hoosiers’ loss will be felt immediately through seeding in the Big Ten Tournament, set to go from March 2-5. The possibility of hosting NCAA Tournament games, which felt like a guarantee not too long ago, is now less likely for Indiana.
But Indiana didn’t lose to pushovers during this skid. No. 21 Iowa has the top scorer in the country on its roster, and Maryland has solid pieces up and down its lineup. Each of Indiana’s opponents was fit to compete for a conference title.
Iowa swept Indiana, though the games went quite differently. In the first of the back-to-back matchups on Feb. 19, the Hawkeyes were dominant from the start and outscored the Hoosiers 25-11 in the first quarter. They then held off a 42-point explosion of a fourth quarter by the Hoosiers to steal a win in Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall.
But Indiana came prepared for Iowa’s offensive firepower in the second matchup, as indicated by the 52-41 lead at halftime on the road. Still, the Hoosiers couldn’t hold on as a cold spell on offense and questionable calls from officials in the second half resulted in an 88-82 loss.
Friday’s regular season finale against Maryland was similar to Indiana’s first matchup with Iowa. The Terrapins’ offense wasn’t as high-powered as that of the Hawkeyes, but it still outscored the Hoosiers 19-10 in the first quarter.
This game remained close through all four quarters. Maryland had its moments, but Indiana was always able to get within enough reach to make the Terrapins uncomfortable with their slim lead. This lasted until the last seconds of the game.
Graduate student guard Nicole Cardaño-Hillary, who’d made none of her previous eight attempts from the field, knocked down a 3-pointer to cut Maryland’s lead to just 1 point. With 35 seconds left, Indiana had another chance to score.
Any field goal would’ve won the game for the Hoosiers if they kept the Terrapins from scoring on the ensuing possession. A 2-point field goal would force Indiana to tie with a 3-pointer, which is exactly how the next possessions played out.
But Indiana’s final shot from Cardaño-Hillary didn’t fall.
There are both elements of concern and bright spots to be found when picking apart Indiana’s recent string of losses. Chief among the concerns is that two of these three losses began with slow starts from Indiana.
Indiana was outscored 70-44 during the first quarters of its past three games. The Hoosiers have gotten out to slow starts before and been able to pull through for convincing wins, albeit against weaker competition.
The Hoosiers have been able to fight back from those early deficits, and it’s good that they’re able to maintain energy throughout a game, but that simply isn’t enough for a winning formula in the Big Ten Tournament or against the nation’s best in the NCAA Tournament.
The bright side is that these losses have come to some of the top teams in the Big Ten standings all while dealing with short turnaround times between games to close out the season, but you can look at these one of two ways. If the Hoosiers can’t beat the best, what can be expected of this team in the Big Ten Tournament?
The regular season is over and the postseason is rapidly approaching, but Indiana still has time to correct its first quarter woes before either tournament tips off. If the Hoosiers want to make another Elite Eight run or better, they must.