Teri Moren stepped to the dais at Bill Greeheny Arena in San Antonio looking like she’d just gotten out of the shower with her hair soaked and matted down and wearing a hooded sweatshirt different than what she’d worn during the game.
But the water that had drenched her hair had apparently not come from a shower head but had been dumped on her in the locker room by her players and coaching staff members as they celebrated a win that took them someplace they’d never been before.
“We made some history tonight,” the Indiana women’s basketball coach said. “Our kids and our staff, particularly those kids, were very excited and got me pretty good in the locker room afterwards. That’s OK. Wet pants, wet shirt, wet hair, in order to just watch the pure joy that these kids have right now is well worth it.”
The Hoosiers are in the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1983, and for the first time ever in a 64-team format in which they had to win two games to get there. In 1983 there were only 36 and Indiana’s first-round upset of Kentucky was enough to get them to the Mideast Regional Semifinals.
This time they had to win two games and they did so in overwhelming fashion. The No. 4 seed Hoosiers hammered No. 12 seed Belmont 70-48 on Wednesday to advance to the Mercado Regional Semifinals to play No. 1 seed North Carolina State this weekend after crushing VCU 63-32 in the first round for a two-game margin of victory of 53 points.
The Hoosiers have four NCAA Tournament wins under Moren since she was hired in 2014. Before her arrival that win over Kentucky in 1983 was the program’s only NCAA Tournament victory.
“Any time you’re the first team to do stuff in your program, that’s a big deal,” said junior guard Grace Berger, who led the Hoosiers with 17 points. “That’s why we came to Indiana, why we all came to Indiana and just believed in coach and her vision for the program.”
In the first two rounds, the Hoosiers made it look like it wasn’t a big deal, like it was easy.
It obviously helped that Belmont upset Gonzaga 64-59 in the first round and the Hoosiers got to the Sweet 16 through two double-digit seeds, but the Bruins were dangerous for a reason. They entered Wednesday’s game with the most potent offense and the stingiest defense in the Ohio Valley Conference, averaging 70.2 points per game and giving up 58.2. They were second in the league in 3-point shooting and they had the second-leading scorer in the conference in guard Destinee Wells with 17.9 points per game.
But the Hoosiers locked in on the game plan and suffocated Belmont’s offense just as it had VCU’s and so many Big Ten opponents. The Bruins were the seventh team Indiana has held under 50 points this season. Belmont had never been held under 50 in a game and was held under 60 just three times before Wednesday, winning two of those games.
— Indiana Women’s Basketball (@IndianaWBB) March 24, 2021
Wells was the focal point of the scouting report, and Moren put senior point guard Nicole Cardaño-Hillary on her and just her to stick to Wells as much as she could. Wells still led Belmont with 16 points, but was 7 of 20 from the field with two assists against two turnovers. Holding her under her average was enough to keep the rest of the Bruins from getting going.
“What we told Nikki to do was just make it as hard as you can for No. 11 all night,” Moren said. “She had help, she certainly had help. They run a lot of that high ball screen stuff and try to get her off high ball screens and re-screens. You need some help from other people particularly your post players. … It all started with her putting pressure on Wells for most of that game.”
And while Cardaño-Hillary was focused on Wells, the rest of the Hoosiers stayed glued to the players they were defending on the perimeter and didn’t give them clean looks. Belmont came into the game averaging 8.6 3-pointers per game and making 34.6 percent of their attempts. The Bruins were 5 of 26 for the game (19.2 percent) and missed on all 13 of their first-half 3-point attempts.
The Bruins made six of their first 11 shots in the game, but after that made just three of their next 27. They finished 20 of 63 for the game (31.7 percent) with a dismal .738 points per possession. They turned the ball over 13 times which turned into 16 points for Indiana.
“I think they came out ready and they were hitting shots, but what I was proud of was that we didn’t let that frazzle us,” Berger said. “We stuck to our game plan that the coaches had for us and just did what we had to do and guarded our man one-on-one and took pride in our defense. We made things tough for them and eventually it paid off.”
On offense, the Hoosiers got production from where they usually get it. Berger was excellent getting to the rim and in the mid-range as usual, hitting six of her 12 shots and and five of six free throws for her 17 points and posting six rebounds and three assists without a foul or a turnover. Senior guard Ali Patberg and sophomore forward Mackenzie Holmes posted 13 points each. Cardaño-Hillary had 10 and junior Aleksa Gulbe had nine to go with 15 rebounds and two assists. The Hoosiers also got eight important bench points, shot 47.1 percent from the field and hit 19 of 25 free throws to put the game away.
This group of Hoosiers will hold a special place in Indiana lore regardless of what happens going forward and it won’t be easy to get past the next round against a North Carolina State team that is 22-2 with 10 straight wins. But IU doesn’t expect that to be the end of the line
“We’re really excited, that’s an understatement,” Berger said, “but we also know we’re not done yet.”
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