Long streams of confetti descended from the rafters of Gainbridge Fieldhouse with haste before curling up as they landed on the court below. Flakes twirled and spun as they slowly floated down before settling onto the stands and players.
Both sets of confetti came in black, blue and white — the colors associated with the Big Ten conference.
Their fall to the center of the court was interrupted by a swarm of black and yellow Iowa jerseys as the Hawkeye players cheered, hugged and smiled. Then, the confetti met the stage, quickly assembled to honor the 2022 Big Ten Tournament Champions’ 74-67 victory over Indiana women’s basketball on Sunday.
The confetti’s fall was likewise halted around Indiana’s bench as the Hoosiers closed in for a huddle around head coach Teri Moren. The flecks of white, blue and black were met with tears streaming down the Hoosiers’ faces as they fell upon the red of Indiana’s jerseys.
But now was not the time to mourn the team’s performance down the stretch, and Moren knew that. She let her players know their coaching staff was proud of them, and that their season is far from over.
“There’s three hundred plus teams that today could’ve been it for them,” Moren said in a postgame press conference. “It’s not the end for us.”
She’s right, you know. The Hoosiers have a sure spot in the NCAA Tournament and likely locked up the chance to play home games at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall with their performance in the Big Ten Tournament.
But that doesn’t mean that this moment of defeat isn’t painful.
Senior guard Grace Berger has a gaze more than capable of intimidating opponents when their eyes meet hers. She had done so on multiple occasions throughout Sunday’s title game after knocking down shots from mid-range or lowering herself into a defensive stance on the other end of the court.
But now, as she took a seat at the postgame press conference, her eyes were red with the residue of tears. They remained locked to the table she sat at as Moren gave her opening statement.
At least, that’s how Berger looked at first. Her posture began to improve as the press conference went on, and her eyes became more willing to meet those of the reporters asking questions. Berger, like her coach and the rest of her teammates, knows that there’s more basketball to be played.
Yes, this loss is going to sting, but Indiana had to fight to get here in the first place. The Hoosiers did so after a regular season-ending stretch of three games in five days, all of which resulted in losses. Two of them came at the hands of this same Iowa team.
The road to the third matchup with the Hawkeyes was paved with rigid competition. The Hoosiers had to get past Rutgers, which has the No. 1 scoring defense in the Big Ten, in the second round. They did. Next was Maryland, the reigning conference champions. Another win. The tournament’s No.1-seed, Ohio State, awaited Indiana in the semifinals. The Hoosiers prevailed again.
When you look back on this tournament run, don’t underestimate how difficult it was for Indiana to get to the championship game in the first place. After playing four games against wildly different opponents in as many days, the Hoosiers came out of it with three wins to one loss.
On top of that, Indiana’s second leading scorer, junior forward Mackenzie Holmes, still wasn’t back to her usual self, Moren said. That played a hand in Iowa senior center Monika Czinano’s dominant performance.
Between 30 points and 10 rebounds, Indiana simply didn’t have an answer for Iowa’s monster in the middle. A healthy Holmes could’ve challenged her, having held Czinano to 36 points combined in their two matchups during the 2020-21 season while scoring 47 points of her own.
The scoring didn’t end with Czinano. Indiana also had to handle the Big Ten’s most feared scorer and Most Outstanding Player of the Tournament, per the media’s vote — Iowa sophomore guard Caitlin Clark. She was held to her lowest scoring output of the tournament, a still-impressive 18 points, by graduate student guard Nicole Cardaño-Hillary.
The tension between the two guards was clear, evidenced by Clark shoulder checking Cardaño-Hillary between plays in the fourth quarter. Clark called Cardaño-Hillary a great defender after the game, but said the Big Ten is full of great defenders in general.
But the result is the result. The fight was there for Indiana, but the victory wasn’t. The Hoosiers have earned a week off to rest before the NCAA Tournament starts, and Moren said it’s a break she’ll absolutely give her players in the next few days. Remember, this isn’t the end.
Berger’s eyes, though they may be teary today, will soon be locked with those of an opposing player. She could be pulling up for a mid-range shot or locking them down on defense.
Either way, the Hoosiers will play in front of their home fans again, and they’ll be playing for far more than a conference trophy.