As the Osborne Brothers’ cult classic “Rocky Top” roared through Thompson-Boling Arena in Knoxville, Tennessee for seemingly the hundredth time, the orange-checkered clad home fans began to bid adieu to their home court.
With a few minutes remaining in Monday’s game between No. 12 Indiana women’s basketball and No. 11 Tennessee, the Hoosiers’ double-digit lead was clearly insurmountable for the Lady Vols. After two swift beatdowns of the University of Vermont and the University of Massachusetts Lowell, it was fair to question how Indiana would perform in its first true test of the season.
Well, if the Hoosiers’ decisive 79-67 road win taught us anything, it’s that they’re a force to be reckoned with. Head coach Teri Moren, who is in the midst of her ninth season at the helm, has often preached toughness and discipline.
Even when her teams lacked success from a winning perspective, every opponent knew what they were getting into when they took the floor with her scrappy bunch. On Monday night, the hallmarks of a Moren-led team were fully encapsulated. The Hoosiers punched the Lady Vols in the mouth early and jumped out to a 40-29 halftime advantage.
The lead peaked at 16 in the third quarter, but then Indiana started to stumble. Tennessee stormed back to cut the deficit to four, but as the fans’ hostility and rowdiness heightened, the Hoosiers dusted themselves off and delivered a series of knockout blows to put the game away.
Indiana maintains a distinct mantra of grittiness and “doing the little things right.” Before the past couple seasons, the cliches grew tiresome. But as Moren has continued to bolster her rosters with talent, they have become a true asset.
At the outset of the season, essentially the Hoosiers’ only known commodities were graduate student guard Grace Berger and senior forward Mackenzie Holmes. With an influx of shooting talent in transfers such as junior guard Sydney Parrish and senior guard Sara Scalia, as well as junior guard Chloe Moore-McNeil being thrust into a starting role, we knew this team would be different. Not necessarily better, but different.
Call it recency bias, but I think this team could be better. Part of the reason for that is how innate the makeup of a Moren team is. After the game, Moren said she questioned how tough her team would be after veterans Aleksa Gulbe, Ali Patberg and Nicole Cardaño-Hillary departed. After all, no one embodied what it means to play for Indiana like that trio.
Still, watching Parrish lay out for a loose ball and subsequently pump her fists into the air, Scalia crash the offensive glass after missing a midrange pullup and freshman Yarden Garzon put her body on the line for a charging call indicate that the Hoosiers’ blue-collar DNA hasn’t been subdued.
In fact, the most impressive part of Monday’s victory was watching Indiana impose its will on Tennessee while also embracing its newfound love for perimeter shooting. While the efficiency wasn’t as pronounced as their first two games — they shot eight for 29 from three-point range against the Lady Vols — the willingness to let those shots fly is a refreshing change of pace.
Although Scalia and Parrish struggled to shoot from deep, the game didn’t require a three-point explosion. What it came down to was those aforementioned little things: who would put more effort into a box-out, slide with tenacity into help defense and run the floor in transition, be it on offense or defense.
With a 17-10 advantage in second-chance points, as well as a hefty 21-2 disparity in points off fast breaks, the Hoosiers were more than happy to play the game they know. While simply having more heart may not have been enough to beat a team as talented as the Lady Vols in the past, this new look Indiana team plays with an amalgam of moxie, shooting ability and yes, grit.
It won’t always be flashy. Sometimes Holmes just needs to barrel her way through defenders and lay the ball off the glass. Sometimes Berger just needs to shoo her teammates away and pull up for a contested midrange shot. But what’s different about these Hoosiers is we know their potential to score from all three levels.
As long as they continue to play with the same defensive intensity and pure desire they displayed against Tennessee, the Hoosiers could do some serious damage. Folks, it’s safe to say that Indiana has arrived.