It was a moment years in the making.
When Indiana women’s basketball head coach Teri Moren strode along the sideline at Total Mortgage Arena, she locked eyes with the University of Connecticut head coach Geno Auriemma.
The two exchanged a handshake with some words of respect imparted onto one another, the first such occurrence between head coaches of Indiana and UConn. One set of hands has been doing this for a while.
When Auriemma arrived in Storrs, Connecticut, back in 1985, UConn’s women’s basketball program had a single winning season in its 11-year history.
But those hands were quick to get to work. They sculpted roster after roster, and play after play until they at last held the NCAA Tournament National Championship trophy, which Auriemma’s Huskies have won 11 times. Now, at the age of 68, Auriemma has guided the Huskies to 21 Final Fours, six undefeated seasons and the best winning percentage in women’s college basketball.
Auriemma was the fastest coach to reach the 1,000-win mark in women’s basketball, doing so in 2017. He’s already in both the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame and the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame.
As for the other set of hands? Well, Moren is just getting started.
She was hired to coach the Hoosiers back in 2014. An Indiana native and Purdue graduate, she knows the state well. That comes with knowing what basketball means on the banks of the Wabash and the waves of corn and soybean fields which lay beyond.
Indiana is a school known for success in men’s basketball, not women’s. Prior to Moren’s arrival, Indiana’s women’s team had gotten past the first round of the NCAA Tournament just once, in 1983. Coaches came and went, and bursts of success did the same.
Under Moren’s guidance, Indiana has risen to prominence both in the Big Ten and on the national stage. In Moren’s eight years, she’s taken the program to four of its eight NCAA Tournament appearances — a number that would’ve been five had a tournament been held in 2020.
With the help of associate head coaches Rhet Wierzba and Glenn Box, assistant coach Ashley Williams, a list of individuals involved in operations that is simply too long to name and the greatest roster in team history, Moren brought the Hoosiers face-to-face with Auriemma’s dynastic Huskies.
But Auriemma wasn’t surprised. He’s been paying attention to what’s been brewing in Bloomington, he said during a pregame press conference Friday, and he’s puzzled that others around the country aren’t doing the same.
“All around the country you heard a lot of people talking about a lot of teams all throughout the season, but Indiana wasn't necessarily at the tip of anyone's tongue,” Auriemma said. “Don't be shocked if — I wouldn't be — if they win this whole thing.”
But the two met before Saturday’s game. The two have run into one another over the years. Just 4 or 5 years ago, they had the chance to speak. Moren and Auriemma were in Colorado Springs, Colorado, to check in on a player from the area.
Auriemma took the time to speak with Moren in that moment, a gesture she said she appreciated.
“He was so gracious,” Moren said. “The nuggets that he would share with me in terms of what the build is like and not selling your soul and sticking to your disciplines and building your program based on the things that are important to you.”
By no means was Auriemma obligated to speak to Moren. He was the coach of UConn, the face of the sport for decades. But he made time for Moren, then an up-and-comer hired at a Power Five program without a winning tradition.
Now he spoke to her as a rival, the two vying for a spot in the Elite Eight. Had Indiana emerged victorious, it would’ve been Moren’s second appearance. Instead, Auriemma earned his 27th.
Obviously, Auriemma has been here before. Done that. But, as he said above, Indiana going all the way wouldn’t have surprised him at all. That means going through his Huskies and a host of other top-tier teams.
He believed in Indiana, and the coach he took the time to chat with just a few years ago, was fully capable of doing so.
This loss is going to sting, particularly for the lineup that’s ushered in a new era of women’s basketball at Indiana. But there’s more to come. The players who took the floor today will likely be there, tuning in from home and yelling in the stands or on the court once again.
It takes time to build something, but it helps when you have so much more than a foundation. Moren and everyone else in the program have plenty to work with over the next few days, months and years.
She’s just getting started.