Indiana was on the verge of letting a 13-point fourth quarter lead slip away.
But Ali Patberg said the Indiana locker room has a different type of mentality. After Patberg’s free throw gave Indiana a three-point lead with 12 seconds left, the Hoosiers just needed one stop.
“Our coaches had us ready for whatever they were going to come out and run,” Patberg said. “We knew we were going to get a stop.”
NC State guard Raina Perez drove to the basket on the last possession, but she was cut off by Aleksa Gulbe as she looked to shoot. Perez kicked it out to Elissa Cunane, but the 38 percent 3-point shooter didn’t draw rim.
Indiana escaped with a 73-70 win over top-seeded NC State, and advanced to the Elite Eight for the first time in program history.
“We have continued to deposit work every day, make those deposits,” Indiana head coach Teri Moren said. “This is where it’s led us.”
Ali Patberg and Mackenzie Holmes spoke to @autumnjohnsontv about the historic win to advance to the Elite 8️⃣ and facing No. 3 Arizona ‼️
— NCAA Women’s Basketball (@ncaawbb) March 28, 2021
Paving their own path
Moren said the tradition of Indiana basketball has always been on the men’s side, but on Saturday night, the women’s team continued to build its own tradition. Indiana has come a long way since its 2018 WNIT championship, but that run has sparked what Indiana is now accomplishing.
“When people talk about Indiana women’s basketball, Indiana basketball, we didn’t want it to be exclusive just to the men’s side,” Moren said.
Moren said aside from the improvements on the court, a major factor in the growth of the program has been due to popularity gained from the WNIT run in 2018. Indiana hosted six games at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall during this run, and with each game, the crowd got bigger and bigger.
“I think it sort of jump-started what we have been trying to do here,” Moren said. “And that’s win consistently, win in big moments.”
After the WNIT championship, Indiana’s goals quickly shifted. Moren hasn’t been afraid to set ambitious goals for her team this year, and that started back in 2018. Moren continued to raise the bar for her program, which meant NCAA Tournament aspirations moving forward.
“Our expectations are going to be high. Why wouldn’t they be?”
— The Hoosier Network (@TheHoosierNet) March 28, 2021
“That experience was unbelievable in so many ways,” Moren said. “But that didn’t become the goal.”
Indiana’s focus then turned to the Big Dance. The 2018-2019 season concluded with a round of 32 loss to Oregon. That came after IU beat Texas for the Hoosiers’ sixth NCAA Tournament win in program history, and it raised Moren’s expectations even more.
Before COVID-19 put an end to the 2019-2020 season, Indiana was on track to earn a four or five seed in the NCAA Tournament, and Moren’s goal was to make a deep run. This benchmark stayed the same at the beginning of this year, but Indiana is still not satisfied as it approaches the program’s first Elite Eight appearance.
“I’ll tell you this,” Moren said. “That group is not quite done yet. They’re eager to play some more basketball. I’m here for it.”
A familiar face
A player that helped grow the Indiana women’s basketball program will now be trying to stop its run on Monday night. Former Indiana guard Bendu Yeaney is now a member of the Arizona Wildcats and has started 21 of the team’s 24 games this year.
Last March, Yeaney decided to transfer to the University of Arizona after being a Hoosier for just over two seasons. Yeaney stated 69 games for Indiana in her first two years, and appeared in six games during the 2019-2020 season before leaving the team.
Yeaney was a key member of the 2018-2019 Indiana team that reached the second round of the tournament. In the Hoosiers’ round of 32 loss to Oregon, Yeaney tore her achilles and endured nine months of recovery and work to get back on the court.
When playing for Indiana, it was clear that everyone was aware of her defensive prowess. Yeaney was known to always guard the opponent’s best player, who she would often frustrate by the end of games. This means Monday night could produce matchups with Yeaney guarding Patberg and Grace Berger on the perimeter.
HALF | Northwestern 37, Indiana 26.
— The Hoosier Network (@TheHoosierNet) January 17, 2019
Yeaney doesn’t play quite as big of a role on Arizona as she did for Indiana, but her importance is clear, nonetheless. She plays nearly 23 minutes per game and is averaging 4.1 points and three rebounds.
Leading up to this matchup, Moren recognized the connection, but is looking at Arizona as a complete team.
“We don’t talk about other opponents in pieces, other than tendencies and how we’re going to guard certain things,” Moren said. “So there’s no emotional connection to having Bendu on the Arizona side. I mean…it’s not Indiana against Bendu. It’s Indiana against Arizona, and so that’s what our focus is.”
Aside from Yeaney, Arizona poses a number of challenges for Indiana. Aari McDonald is the PAC-12 leading scorer at 19.8 points per game and also leads the conference in steals with 2.8 per game.
McDonald is a high-volume scorer, but it also takes her a lot of shots to get there. She attempts over six 3-pointers per game on average, but is shooting just 31 percent from deep. McDonald will likely take between 15 and 20 shots on Monday night, which means it will be key for the Hoosiers to make them difficult looks at the basket.
Look forward to a grind-it-out style of play from both sides on Monday. Arizona is ranked second in points allowed per game in the PAC-12, and Moren always demands that her teams dig in on the defensive end.
The big picture
Indiana picked up the biggest win in program history on Saturday night versus NC State. Moren often talks about her team’s 24-hour rule, which will be especially important as the Hoosiers face a quick turnaround.
Moren’s rule is that she lets herself and the team enjoy the victory for 24 hours, but it is back to business after that. It is clear how much the Hoosiers have enjoyed their NCAA Tournament run, and they should.
— Indiana Women’s Basketball (@IndianaWBB) March 28, 2021
But with just one day in between games, Moren’s 24-hour rule was likely shortened. The NCAA Tournament is not only a test of each team’s skill, but also endurance and preparation. Indiana’s early exit in the Big Ten tournament could turn out to be a good thing, as the Hoosiers gained a few extra days to rest in between.
Patberg spoke of her confidence in the coaching staff down the stretch against NC State, but the jobs of Indiana’s staff will only continue to be more challenging. Indiana has been able to overcome struggles, but a few areas of concern remain.
Indiana shot just 2-for-14 from beyond the arc against NC State, which means Indiana is 8-for-38 from 3 during the NCAA Tournament. Indiana is shooting just 28 percent from 3 as as team this season, which means Moren and the Hoosiers know how to win without hitting threes, but the numbers are objectively poor.
Moren said after the NC State game that she wants Indiana to push the ball in transition, which will result in easy looks. Strong defense and toughness have become the identity of this team, and leading up to the biggest game in program history, Moren isn’t changing anything about what got her team to this point.
“We are who we are,” Moren said. “We are blue-collar. We’re going to roll up our sleeves and we’re going to step between the lines and we’re going to go to work. It’s a competitive environment, we’re going to try to go toe-to-toe with you. We’re not going to back down from anybody.”