Indiana women’s basketball defeated the University of North Carolina at Charlotte 85-51 on Saturday in Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall to advance to the Second Round of the NCAA Tournament. The Hoosiers built most of the margin with a 22-2 run across the end of the first quarter and start of the second quarter.
Through the first seven minutes of the first quarter, the game was back-and-forth as the teams traded the lead, but neither was able to build a sizable gap.
With under three minutes left in the first frame, fifth-year guard Octavia Jett-Wilson hit a turnaround jumper for the No. 14-seed 49ers to tie the game at 11-11. The No. 3-seed Hoosiers responded quickly on the next possession, as senior guard Grace Berger found sophomore guard Chloe Moore-McNeil for a 3-pointer with over 20 seconds left on the shot clock.
On Indiana’s next trip down the floor, following a Charlotte turnover, Moore-McNeil found junior forward Mackenzie Holmes in the paint for a layup to give Indiana a 5-point lead, its largest of the game to that point.
A couple of possessions later, senior forward Aleksa Gulbe stole the ball and passed it ahead to Moore-McNeil for a fastbreak layup. Sensing the run, the crowd of 6,389, mostly Hoosier fans, rose to their feet and showered the team with cheers as Charlotte brought the ball up the floor.
“I don't know that I saw anything extraordinary,” head coach Teri Moren said. “Aleksa stepped out and hit a couple threes for us in that stretch just to kind of jump start us and get us going.”
Starting with Moore-McNeil’s bucket, Indiana finished the first quarter on an 11-1 run. A buzzer-beater from Holmes capitalized the run, as she missed a contested layup but cleaned up the rebound and converted the putback as the clock expired.
Indiana kept its momentum going into the second quarter, smothering Charlotte’s offense and forcing turnovers. Gulbe led the charge early in the second quarter to keep Indiana’s run going. She found Berger for an assist on a mid-range jumper and a few possessions later, made a layup through contact and converted the and-one opportunity at the free-throw line.
“We found our rhythm offensively and we were certainly guarding and getting the stops we needed,” Moren said of Indiana’s run.
Jett-Wilson finally put an end to Charlotte’s offensive drought with a jump shot with 5:35 left in the second quarter. The basket was the first successful field goal for Charlotte in over seven minutes of game time. Across that span, Indiana outscored its opponent 22-2 and built a 33-13 lead.
Despite the period of dominance, halftime had not yet come and the Hoosiers had to transition from building their lead to maintaining it. Moren said the team did a poor job of holding on initially and the players forced shots when they didn’t need to.
“There was a stretch there in the first half though where we settled for taking pull-up jump shots when we didn't need to,” Moren said. “We bailed them out because of our shot selection for about a two or three-minute period.”
The Hoosiers entered halftime with a 42-24 lead, and Moren said they came out of the break with better shot selection. The Hoosiers were able to hang onto their lead and control the game in the second half, which Gulbe said was a result of the players’ conditioning.
“We have to play our game no matter what the score is,” Gulbe said.
With the win, Indiana advances to the Second Round of the NCAA Tournament for the second consecutive year and will play No. 11-seed Princeton University on Monday at Assembly Hall.