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Rapid Reaction: Aari McDonald lights up Indiana, season-long struggles plague Hoosiers in Elite Eight loss to Arizona

The best season in Indiana women’s basketball history ended with season-long problems that couldn’t be fixed.

The Hoosiers entered the game shooting 28 percent from 3, and walked off the court on Monday night shooting 0-for-9 from beyond the arc. Indiana struggled to contain Arizona guard Aari McDonald, and was sent packing with a 66-53 loss in the Elite Eight. 

The third-seeded Arizona Wildcats advance to the program’s first Final Four appearance, and will face top-seeded UConn for a chance to advance to the National Championship game.

Former Indiana guard Bendu Yeaney transferred to Arizona during the 2019-2020 season, and has played a crucial role in Arizona’s tournament run. On Monday night, Yeaney scored three points points, grabbed five rebounds and continued her high level of on-ball defense that Indiana fans remember. 

The Hoosiers had a tough time defending Yeaney’s teammate Aari McDonald, who finished the regular season as the PAC-12 leading scorer. McDonald entered the game averaging 19.8 points per game, and kept up with this mark Monday, scoring 33 points and 11 rebounds on 12-for-20 shooting.

McDonald was forced to leave the game with 2:35 left in the game with what looked to be an ankle injury. As McDonald drove to the basket, her foot got tangled up with Nicole Cardaño-Hillary. McDonald exited briefly to seek medical attention, but returned to the game with 1:54 left.

McDonald’s performance was reminiscent of Indiana’s early exit in the Big Ten tournament, too. In the Hoosiers’ loss to Michigan State, Nia Clouden scored 30 of the Spartans’ points to upset Indiana. 

Indiana head coach Teri Moren started with Cardaño-Hillary matched up on McDonald, but Moren said even good defense couldn’t stop McDonald at times. Strong defense carried Indiana to the Elite Eight, but McDonald’s ability to hit contested shots put the Indiana defense in an unfamiliar position. 

The Hoosiers set the record for fewest points given up by a Big Ten team in an NCAA tournament game when they gave up 32 points in the first round versus VCU. Indiana followed that up by allowing 48 points versus Belmont before defeating NC State in the Sweet 16.

Ever since Jaelynn Penn’s opt-out on Feb. 7, Indiana has relied almost entirely on its starters for scoring. Moren has still played an eight or nine player rotation in most games, but the scoring responsibilities have fallen nearly completely on the shoulders of the starting five.

The story was no different Monday. Indiana’s bench scored zero points, which was simply too few to overcome. In Indiana’s first three games of the tournament, the bench contributed just 11 combined points, eight of which came when the outcome was already decided against Belmont. Forward Kiandra Browne exited the game midway through the third quarter with an injury and did not return. 

This put far too much pressure on Ali Patberg, Grace Berger and Mackenzie Holmes to carry the load offensively. Aside from this trio, the Hoosiers scored just six points against Arizona. 

Ultimately, Indiana was unable to overcome McDonald’s offensive firepower and did not make a 3-point field goal, but will return to Bloomington with the program’s furthest NCAA tournament run. Indiana was also the last Big Ten team remaining after Maryland’s Sweet 16 loss to Texas. 

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