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After regrouping and recovery, No. 1 seed IU women’s basketball heads into NCAA Tournament with high hopes

Coming off its roughest week of the season, Indiana women’s basketball spent time regrouping.

The Hoosiers suffered two losses in a seven-day span at the end of February and beginning of March, after dropping just one prior game all season. And it left IU with over a week until Selection Sunday, and two weeks until its next game.

So the Hoosiers went back to the drawing board. They crumbled against Ohio State’s press defense in the Big Ten Tournament semifinals, and knew that required attention. And now, they finally had time to address it.

And Indiana needed to recover from a grind of a Big Ten season. By the time they got back from Minneapolis, some players were not at full strength physically, and more were less than 100 percent mentally.

That time could benefit the Hoosiers as they embark on an NCAA Tournament unlike any other in program history.

“I think we’ve all just been really trying to get healthy, feeling good again. That Big Ten season is no joke,” All-American forward Mackenzie Holmes said. “Afterward, I think we all just kind of took a deep breath and tried to get ourselves feeling good again.”

Indiana earned a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament for the first time in program history. IU is No. 2 overall in the field, behind only undefeated South Carolina. The Hoosiers begin March Madness on Saturday at 11:30 a.m. ET (ESPN2) against the winner of a First Four battle between No. 16 seeds Tennessee Tech and Monmouth. Only one No. 1 seed has ever lost to a No. 16 seed in the women’s tournament.

Upon advancing, IU would play the victor between No. 8 Oklahoma State and No. 9 Miami (Fla.). Wins by the Hoosiers and Cowgirls would set up a showdown between IU’s Yarden Garzon and her sister Lior.

The Hoosiers have spent much of the season near the top of the polls. They’ve had plenty of time to process the significance of being one of the best teams in the country. But that’s different than seeing IU earn a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

When that came up on the Selection Show, the team stood and cheered.

“We had a pretty good idea that we’d be, probably, a one seed. But I think to actually see it on the big screen, that No. 1 next to our name, it’s something that looking back on it, I might not have thought was possible,” Berger said. “It’s really special to see where we came from when I first got here in 2018 to where we are now. It’s definitely one of those moments where it kind of feels surreal.”

Reaching a third straight Sweet 16 would, again, be a big deal for this program. And in many ways, this season has already been successful regardless of what happens in the tournament. But after getting in such an advantageous position, IU’s barometer for March success will depend on an even deeper run.

Indiana’s path to Dallas isn’t easy. But it’s never easy at this time of year, and it could have been much worse.

IU should be a heavy favorite in both of the first two rounds in Bloomington, and then could see bigger tests in the Sweet 16 or Elite Eight. Utah and LSU carry gaudy records into the tournament, but also have flaws on their resumes — and IU would only have to play one of them, or Big Ten foe Michigan, barring another challenger rising up. Villanova has the country’s leading scorer, Maddy Siegrist, but the Hoosiers have played plenty of other top talents in conference play.

Five Thirty Eight gives Indiana a 54 percent chance of reaching the Final Four. LSU, the No. 3 seed, is second in those ratings at 25 percent.

Indiana, after a dominant season, is rightfully favored to get to its first Final Four. IU head coach Teri Moren doesn’t let her players get swept up in the moment, whether positive or negative, and it’s unlikely she’d allow them to look too far ahead.

But the Hoosiers haven’t been shy about their lofty goals this year, of winning a conference title, reaching a Final Four, and playing for a national title. And Moren thinks her team is capable of making it happen.

“I’ve always said this about this group, because of the balance, because of the talent, because of their competitiveness, how businesslike they approach each game, that the sky’s the limit,” IU head coach Teri Moren said. “They can accomplish whatever they set their minds to. Our job as coaches and our staff, we just try to help them and prepare them as well as we can. But ultimately, we know that the resume that we put together is because of the players that compete in between the lines. They’re responsible for the No. 1 seed.”

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