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'This means the world to me': Indiana advances to first-ever Elite Eight with thrilling win over top-seeded NC State

With a missed 3-pointer from Elissa Cunane at the buzzer, Teri Moren and the Indiana Hoosiers wrapped up quite possibly the biggest win in program history, with a 73-70 win over No. 1-seeded NC State in the Sweet 16. The Hoosiers now advance to the first Elite Eight in program history, and it took a total team effort to beat an excellent NC State team.

All five starters for the Hoosiers scored double-digit points, and two of them recorded a double-double. Grace Berger had 12 points while also grabbing 12 very important rebounds. Aleksa Gulbe had 11 points and grabbed 10 rebounds for herself.

Indiana's Nicole Cardano-Hillary battles for possession in the Sweet 16 at the Alamodome on March 27, 2021 in San Antonio, Texas. (Photo by Justin Tafoya/NCAA Photos via Getty Images)

But this game could not have been won without the excellent guard play of Ali Patberg and Nicole Cardano-Hillary. The two combined for 31 points and were excellent in crunch time with some big free throws. For Patberg, an Indiana native, this is nothing but a dream come true. 

“This is a dream to play for Indiana,” Patberg said. “I grew up right down the road, and this means the world to me. To represent my team, my program, our program, it’s a blessing. And to be on this stage with my teammates and my coaches, I can’t even explain how much of a blessing it is.”

Indiana basketball has always been recognized for the accomplishments that the men’s program has achieved. But it seems that Moren and company are truly building a culture here in Bloomington, and this team is getting better and better as the years go on. Moren wants to change the mantra that Indiana is just a men’s basketball program. 

“The state of Indiana is basketball,” Moren said. “So it means so much for us to do what we were able to do tonight. We’ve continued to build our own tradition. The tradition is always on the men’s side, but we wanted to build our own. And when people talk about Indiana basketball, we didn’t want it to be exclusively to the men’s side.” 

Ali Patberg celebrates as IU plays NC State in the Sweet 16 at the Alamodome on March 27, 2021 in San Antonio, Texas. (Photo by Justin Tafoya/NCAA Photos via Getty Images)

As expected in a matchup between two excellent defensive teams, there were not a lot of shots falling early on in the game. Offensively, Indiana started out very slow, shooting about 17% halfway through the first quarter as the Wolfpack got out to a 7-0 start. However, Indiana would respond with a 7-0 run of its own, started off by a steal and a bucket from Cardano-Hillary.

But NC State would strike back, going on a whopping 11-0 run including a couple buckets from All-American center Elissa Cunane. The Hoosiers really struggled to make some shots during that stretch to keep up with the Wolfpack. With NC State getting some shots to go, it would make room for an interesting second quarter to see what adjustments Moren would make.

Indiana's defense was outstanding in the second quarter. At the halfway point in the second, the Hoosiers had forced the Wolfpack into eight turnovers and just five points. While playing excellent defense, Berger and Patberg made some big outside shots to help Indiana climb back into the game.

IU did an excellent job on the glass against a very good rebounding team. The Hoosiers outrebounded the Wolfpack 7-0 on the offensive glass, which had NC State out of sorts since they haven’t been in a position where they’ve been outrebounded all year. The Hoosiers went into the half up one point on the No. 1 seeded Wolfpack, and hoped to continue their momentum on both ends of the floor.

NC State typically outscores opponents by an average of 26 points in the third quarter, but that would not be the case early in the third. The Hoosiers went on a quick 11-2 run to open things up in the third quarter. The Wolfpack looked like they were in a bit of unfamiliar territory as the Hoosiers were rolling both offensively and defensively

Indiana players celebrate after beating NC State in the Sweet 16 at the Alamodome on March 27, 2021 in San Antonio, Texas. (Photo by Justin Tafoya/NCAA Photos via Getty Images)

The Hoosier offense looked like the best it had against a very gritty NC State defense. Patberg and Cardano-Hillary were able to carve their way inside and score. This opened up Holmes and Gulbe to also get some big buckets inside to extend the Hoosier lead to double digits heading into the final quarter.

Indiana was able to keep up its momentum from the excellent third quarter into the fourth. The Hoosiers were able to be patient and get some high quality shots on the offensive end and continue to get stops defensively. However, Indiana found itself in a bit of trouble at the end of the game.

Holmes picked up her fifth foul and fouled out of the game with some time left. This allowed the Wolfpack to hit some big time 3s and cut the Hoosier lead to just two points. Cardano-Hillary and Patberg hit some big free throws down the stretch, and eventually give Indiana the 73-70 upset win over NC State.

There were a lot of questions coming into this tournament for Indiana, especially considering the fact that the team came off a tough loss in its first game in the Big Ten tournament against Michigan State. But this team has certainly answered those questions just by being itself and playing its style. 

Mackenzie Holmes smiles as Indiana Hoosiers plays the NC State Wolfpack in the Sweet Sixteen of the 2021 NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament held at the Alamodome on March 27, 2021 in San Antonio, Texas. (Photo by C. Morgan Engel/NCAA Photos via Getty Images)

“We came into this tournament just trying to be who we are,” Moren said. “We’re not trying to be anybody different. My staff is extraordinary at putting together scouting reports, and our kids are always prepared. Our goal is never for our kids to get to a game and be surprised. But offensively, we are who we are.”

Indiana will play the Arizona Wildcats in the program's first ever Elite Eight game Monday night, and the time is still to be decided. Arizona just recently defeated a very solid Texas A&M team, so this will be a very tough task for Indiana. If the Hoosiers can keep up the confident play, this team is capable of making the Final Four and beyond.

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