BLOOMINGTON — Indiana’s lopsided loss to Iowa prompted the Hoosiers to take a long, hard look in the mirror.
It wasn’t something they necessarily wanted to do. The conversations weren’t fun. But there was no way to address that display from last weekend without being direct.
No. 16 Indiana, relying on veteran leadership, moved on from the letdown and earned a strong 85-62 home win over Minnesota on Wednesday.
That victory was the product of some blunt conversations during Monday’s film session reviewing the Iowa game. A lot of people — IU head coach Teri Moren, her staff, and some players — spoke up and made some harsh comments. But jarring as it may have been, the players needed to hear it.
“I think it was a pride thing. I believe that it hurt every single one of us to hear coach question whether or not we were ready to play that game,” graduate student Mackenzie Holmes said after the Minnesota game. “I think we all just took it personally. We hate losing more than we like to win. So I think that hearing that and having that loss really woke us up. We just don’t want to have that conversation again.”
This wasn’t the first time this season IU needed self-reflection. The Hoosiers’ loss to Iowa was their second of the year; the blowout loss at Stanford in the second game of the season prompted similar reactions. Indiana revamped so much of its roster ahead of the 2022-23 season, and that team suffered just four losses all year.
This group isn’t well-versed in failure.
Moren was disappointed by the outcome of the Iowa game, but the way it transpired was what really drove her frustration. She felt her players didn’t uphold the standards she’s built her IU women’s basketball program around. And she let them know it.
“I just thought we underperformed. I thought we looked disconnected. I thought, at times, we looked uninspired. And that was frustrating. We didn’t build this program on those things. We built this program on our toughness, our grittiness,” Moren said Wednesday. “I wanted to remind them of how this thing has been built. And it’s been built off of those things, those core beliefs that regardless of the scoreboard, we’re going to play it out, and we’re going to end the game the right way. That was my message.”
There was no hesitation from Moren or IU’s players in getting everything out on the table as they watched through film from Saturday’s game in Iowa City. The Hoosiers didn’t play a sparkling first half, but they were right in the game at halftime and liked their chances. But the second-half collapse happened quickly, and IU just allowed the situation to snowball.
That’s what prompted the hard truths from Moren and others. It wasn’t just the loss, against one of the best teams in the country; it was the way Indiana gave up and let the game spiral from bad to worse.
“We had some tough film to watch,” Holmes said. “But we knew it was going to make us better.”
After the Stanford game, the typically understated Chloe Moore-McNeil spoke up on the plane ride back from California to make clear that the team’s performance was unacceptable. Moren, after the Iowa game, said she’d look to her veterans to set the tone in the aftermath of that setback.
Moren said the players responded. And given the way they showed up against Minnesota, that’s hard to dispute.
Indiana played sound basketball to pull away in the second quarter, and didn’t blink when the Golden Gophers clawed back in the third quarter. The Hoosiers looked like a group trying to prove a point on Wednesday.
That’s a testament to the team’s leadership, both the coaching staff and the veteran players. Another subpar outing in this game would’ve cast some serious doubt on Indiana’s long-term outlook, both in the Big Ten title race and beyond. But in a bounce-back situation, something the Hoosiers are not particularly accustomed to, they locked in and got it done.
And that was possible because of the difficult conversations Indiana had after its frustrating night against its biggest rival.
“I think we have great chemistry. I think they’re friends on and off the floor. But I do think that, at times, it’s difficult to be able to tell your teammate exactly what you think and what they need to hear. And so that’s what I’m here for. I’m able to tell them individually, remind them individually of their role and how important they are to this team and remind them of what we need them to do and what the expectations are, and what the standards are,” Moren said. “Let me just make this clear. Yes, our staff was frustrated and disappointed. But so were those kids. There’s no doubt that they were not happy.”
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