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Indiana falls short of second straight Elite Eight appearance in loss to Connecticut

BRIDGEPORT, Conn. – The stage was set this Saturday as Indiana made its way to its Sweet Sixteen matchup against Connecticut. Third-seeded Indiana was put up against the most historic program in women's basketball history looking for a return to the Elite Eight but couldn't get over the second-seeded Huskies to continue their run in March. 

Indiana fell to the Huskies in a one-sided battle 75-58 falling short of another Elite Eight run.

Nicole Cardaño-Hillary drives against Connecticut in the Sweet Sixteen. (Photo courtesy of IU Athletics)

This game marks the last time Indiana will see graduate students Nicole Cardaño-Hillary, Ali Patberg, and senior Aleksa Gulbe in the cream and crimson as all three have played their final game in an Indiana uniform. Patberg scored a game-high 16 points on 7-for-9 shooting in what proved to be the final game of her seven-year college basketball career. 

The starting five of Cardaño-Hillary, Patberg, Grace Berger, Gulbe and junior Mackenzie Holmes saw a lot of success in their years together but now it comes to an end. With three of the five leaving, they all now take different routes after their Indiana career. Holmes talked about how much it meant to play alongside Patberg and the rest of her teammates. 

“I don't think I could even put that into words,'' Holmes said. “I told Ali I'm not ready to have her not be my teammate anymore. This team is filled with 11 selfless girls who would just put each other before themselves and I mean, Ali's going to be my sister for life as the other seniors will be. I don't think I'm gonna let myself process this for a while.”

Things started off well for Indiana, causing UConn to turnover the ball in the first two possessions and racing out to a 8-2 lead in the first four minutes. That six-point lead was the largest it ever got for the Hoosiers as UConn inched its way back after Indiana's hot start. The Huskies took control with 56 seconds left to go in the first quarter and set themselves up for the rest of the game as Indiana wasn't able to regain the lead. 

The Hoosiers looked to capitalize on some momentum thanks to Gulbe draining a 3 at the buzzer to bring it within four at halftime. Indiana brought it close several times throughout the day but a 16-0 run by the Huskies to start the second half never gave Indiana the chance to come back.

As the game carried on, UConn simply kept out-rebounding Indiana which led to the Huskies to get several second-chance opportunities. UConn outrebounded Indiana 39-27 while also out-rebounding them on the offensive glass 15-2. Senior Olivia Nelson-Ododa and sophomore Aaliyah Edwards almost out-rebounded Indiana by themselves and the two forwards for UConn combined for a total of 24 rebounds. Those rebounds gave the Huskies multiple chances, having shot 19 more times than Indiana. UConn went 31-for-67 from the field while Indiana finished 23-for-48.

Aleksa Gulbe runs down the court against Connecticut in the Sweet Sixteen. (Photo courtesy of IU Athletics)

UConn saw nine different players play effective minutes with eight of those nine having scored in this game. Four players for UConn had double digit points and sophomore Paige Bueckers and senior Christyn Williams both had 15. Indiana saw its typical starting five on the floor for most of the game but the lack of depth for the Hoosiers made it hard for Indiana to compete against UConn’s size and pace. Indiana only had one point off the bench. Every other point came from the starting group. 

Head coach Teri Moren talked about her beloved group that was part of Indiana’s recent success. 

“Every year you have a different team and all of them have different personalities and different ways that they do things and this was a great group because they had such great balance, you know, from Grace Berger, who doesn't say much to Nikki, who says too much sometimes,” Moren said. “Ali's kind of in between and so forth. So this has just been a dynamite group to be able to coach the last few years.” Moren said. 

Indiana finishes its season 24-9 while also making its second consecutive March Madness run. After a deep Big Ten Tournament run and a Sweet Sixteen appearance, the team now looks towards the 2022-2023 season after one of its most successful years in program history.

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