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By knocking off Tennessee, IU women’s basketball answers some big questions

Coming into this 2022-23 season, Indiana women’s basketball had a lot of questions.

IU lost Ali Patberg, Nicole Cardaño-Hillary, and Aleksa Gulbe — three players who helped lead Indiana to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament in two straight seasons — after last year ended. The Hoosiers brought in a lot of new faces to fill the gaps, both through the transfer portal and in their freshman class.

In theory, IU had a team that could be deeper and have more balance than years past. But that was only on paper until the team physically took the court this season. It would be hard to see what potential the team had before seeing how the new pieces blend together and how they handle an early challenge.

So by going to Knoxville and knocking off No. 11 Tennessee — one of the traditional powers in women’s college basketball — these Hoosiers answered a lot of those questions.

Going into the game, head coach Teri Moren said this would be a good early-season barometer for her team to see where it’s at. She — and everyone — learned a lot on Monday.

“I guess I was wondering how tough of a group we have, because we do have so many new faces, although they’re experienced,” Moren said. “Just really happy with how we handled ourselves, how we shared the ball, how we answered the call when it felt like Tennessee started making a run.”

This IU team does fit together well. The rotation pieces added around returning All-Americans Grace Berger and Mackenzie Holmes can get the job done. Minnesota transfer Sara Scalia, Oregon transfer Sydney Parrish, and Israeli freshman Yarden Garzon — along with Chloe Moore-McNeil — make Indiana a much more serious threat from 3-point range.

The outside shooting wasn’t at its best here, as the Hoosiers shot 8 for 29 from beyond the arc. But that’s significantly higher volume 3-point shooting than IU has shot in recent years, and its shooters are capable of bigger nights. Scalia was in the top 25 in the nation in 3-point percentage last season. It’s reasonable to think she won’t have a ton of 2 for 9 nights from deep like she did Monday.

The depth is the big question still remaining about Indiana. The Hoosiers had only six reliable rotation players last season, and early on this year, it seems that may be the case again. In this first big game of the season, nine players saw the court — but three played five minutes or less.

Perhaps one of those three (Providence transfer Alyssa Geary, freshman Lilly Meister, and freshman Lexus Bargesser) develops into a player that handles more minutes down the road. Or maybe when Kiandra Browne recovers from the thumb injury that’s held her out of the first three games, she’ll enter a sizable role off the bench.

If those things don’t happen, then depth could be an issue for Indiana yet again this year.

But depth is often overrated in college basketball. It’s more about who has the best five on the court for the majority of the game.

There’s still a lot of season left, with plenty of twists and turns. But with two elite known commodities in Berger and Holmes, and the other rotation players who look this good, Indiana looks like it can hang with most teams in the country.

And as Moren alluded to, her team answered a very important question Monday. This is early in the season for a team with so many new pieces to test its mettle. And IU clearly showed it was up to the task.

In a tough road environment, Indiana grabbed control of the game early. The Hoosiers out-rebounded a Lady Volunteers team that ranked second in the nation last year in rebounds per game, and never let Tennessee get comfortable. And when the Vols started to make their push — they cut Indiana’s 16-point lead to as little as four — IU didn’t bat an eye. IU responded, built its lead back up, and cruised to the finish line.

In one game, the Hoosiers both showed they can assert their will against a good team, and that they can withstand runs from good teams and fight back. That can only be a good omen for the rest of the season.

This is a win that should help Indiana with postseason seeding. It’s as good a win as any that IU had on its resume last year — if not, better.

This is a win that announced to the rest of the country that this new version of Indiana women’s basketball is a force to be reckoned with.

But more than that, this is a win that proves that these Hoosiers have the same grit that came to define the previous era of IU women’s basketball.

The Daily Hoosier –“Where Indiana fans assemble when they’re not at Assembly”