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Indiana women’s basketball showed a lot about themselves through response to first loss

Indiana women’s basketball freshman Yarden Garzon is typically mild-mannered on the floor. Whether she’s struggling or lighting it up, her stoic expression rarely changes.

So when she came away with a steal in overtime against Nebraska and let out a roar, it spoke volumes.

Indiana pulled away from the Cornhuskers in that extra period on Sunday by holding them scoreless. And after a tough weekend of self-reflection, the Hoosiers had a lot of emotion to finally let out.

“Yarden’s not an emotional kid. Sara Scalia’s not an emotional kid. But there were moments where there was some emotion. And you want them to play with emotion,” IU head coach Teri Moren said. “You don’t want them to be emotional, but you want them to play with emotion.”

With so many new faces in the program playing important roles on the court, every game for IU has been crucial. Every day, in fact. The team is, in a lot of ways, still getting used to playing with each other — and since late November, there’s been the added wrinkle of playing without Grace Berger.

Some of those growing pains showed up throughout December. IU won a few of its games despite not playing its best basketball. And then, in East Lansing, the Hoosiers dug themselves a hole too deep to overcome and lost their first game to Michigan State on Thursday.

So as 2022 turned to 2023, IU women’s basketball found itself in an interesting spot. This team with so many newly assembled pieces was now dealing with losing for the first time.

There was no way to know how the group would respond to losing — not just in the next game, but in the days following that loss.

Even Moren wasn’t entirely sure what would happen. Veteran Mackenzie Holmes said after the loss that they had no time to feel sorry for themselves, with just three days to turn around and play Nebraska.

But sometimes, that’s easier said than done. It’s easy to be one happy family when you’re winning. Even just one loss could be all it takes to mess up team chemistry, cause division, or expose weaknesses.

But that never happened for this IU team. Suffering a loss can also strengthen a team’s resolve, show its true characteristics, and show the players what they can’t do in big games if they want to win.

And that’s the route IU took after losing.

“I think after that loss, as much as it stung in the moment, I knew the next day that it was going to be one of those losses that was going to help us in the long run,” Holmes said. “We learned from it, we watched film, we owned up to the mistakes that we made. I think it takes putting your pride aside to own up to the mistakes that we made throughout that game. Owning up to it is for the better of the team.”

That accountability served the Hoosiers well in preparing for Nebraska.

Turnovers were the biggest reason for the loss to Michigan State, and IU was far better in that category Sunday. The Hoosiers committed a season-high 21 turnovers against the Spartans, and just 13 against the Huskers.

IU knew it had to take better care of the ball. There were still some careless moments on Sunday, and Michigan State is one of the best teams in the country at forcing turnovers. But it was clear that IU learned its lesson.

And in the big picture — as Holmes said — the Michigan State loss may benefit the Hoosiers as time goes on. They’re learning more about themselves with each game that passes. And this Nebraska game gave them an opportunity they had not yet had: seeing how they would react to a bad result.

Moren reminded them over the days between the games to stay grounded — to not get too down after a loss, just as they can’t ride too high after a win.

Sunday’s game wasn’t a perfect performance for IU, by any measure. The players and staff know they still have plenty to clean up and improve on. Some of that will only possible when they get Berger back on the court.

But through gutting out a tough game against a good Nebraska team, and stepping their game up when it mattered most, the Hoosiers showed a lot. They showed the mentality necessary to be one of the top teams in the nation.

The Hoosiers accepted their faults from the Michigan State game, knew they were better than that, and resolved to be better. And on Sunday, they found a way to do just that.

“I was as curious as the rest of you guys, in terms of how we were going to bounce back, in what way we were going to respond,” Moren said. “What I always love is to hear them in those moments in timeouts, and just hear the good juice that they’re giving each other, and what they’re saying, and — in their minds, their perspective — how we’re going to close this game out, how we’re going to win this game, by doing what.”

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