Indiana women’s basketball is part of the madness once again.
After finishing the season with a 22-8 record and as the Big Ten Tournament runner-up, the Hoosiers were named a No. 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament by the selection committee on Sunday. They will play their first game against No. 14 seed University of North Carolina at Charlotte and, because the Hoosiers are a top-four seed in the Bridgeport region, Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall will serve as a host site for the first and second rounds of the tournament.
“Historic for this program, never been done,” head coach Teri Moren said. “We’re obviously excited about that and we’re grateful that we can have Hoosier nation included in this moment with us.”
Playing tournament games in Assembly Hall is another first for a program that has had many over the past few years.
When Moren was named head coach in 2014, Indiana had not finished in the top half of the Big Ten standings in five years and hadn’t made the NCAA Tournament since 2002. Since taking over, Moren transformed Indiana into one of the conference’s best teams, winning an NIT Championship in 2018 and receiving four NCAA Tournament berths — 2016, 2019, 2021 and this season.
Last season, the Hoosiers reached the Elite Eight round for the first time ever — having never even reached the Sweet Sixteen before. With this season’s selection, the Hoosiers are playing in back-to-back NCAA Tournaments for only the second time ever, the first coming in the 1993-94 and 1994-95 seasons.
Indiana ended the 2019-20 season ranked in the Associated Press poll when the season was canceled due to COVID-19. If the season had not been canceled and Indiana made the tournament, it would now have a program-record four straight selections instead of three.
“When we arrived eight years ago, this is really what we envisioned: every year to take a step,” Moren said. “A lot of our growth has to do with our players that we’ve recruited and brought into Bloomington, without them none of this would be possible. They all believed in the vision of what we wanted to do.”
No. 3 is also the highest seed Indiana has ever received in the NCAA Tournament, one step above last year’s No. 4 seed. Indiana earned its high seed despite dealing with unexpected setbacks and struggles over the course of the season.
Junior forward Mackenzie Holmes suffered a knee injury that required surgery prior to Indiana’s 72-65 win over Nebraska on Jan. 13 and she missed over a month of games as a result. Prior to the injury, Holmes was Indiana’s leading scorer, rebounder and shot blocker, which put her on the Wooden Award watch list.
Shortly after Holmes’ injury, COVID-19 protocols forced the Hoosiers to go two weeks without playing any games and prevented consistent practice.
“It really just made everything worth it, all the adversity that we went through this season,” Holmes said. “That we battled that adversity and those hard times and we’re still a three-seed and we get another chance to play in Assembly Hall, I think it's just a major blessing.”
Both Moren and the players emphasized the importance of having an opportunity to play tournament games in front of their home fans. Graduate student guard Ali Patberg said she remembers the advantage the University of Oregon had when Indiana played in Eugene, Oregon, in the second round of the 2019 NCAA Tournament. She said the crowd helped Oregon win that game and she hopes Indiana will receive a similar boost this year.
Indiana’s first round game against Charlotte will tip off at 1:30 p.m. Saturday in Assembly Hall. The winner of that game will play the winner of No. 6 seed Kentucky and No. 11 seed Princeton on Monday in the second round of the Bridgeport Region.
“We’re ready to go, we’re ready to play,” Moren said. “Now that we know who we’re going to play in the first round with Charlotte, we’ll get to work this week and look forward to being in the Hall on Saturday.”