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The Indiana women’s basketball starting lineup hasn’t changed, but the bench could be much different

Within days of its loss to Arizona in the Elite Eight, it was clear that Indiana’s women’s basketball team would be team run-it-back for 2021-22, taking full advantage of the fact that 2020-21 didn’t count against anyone’s eligibility.

Two days after the loss, guard Ali Patberg decided to return for a seventh year in college basketball. Not long after that, George Mason transfer point guard Nicole Cardano-Hillary announced that she would stay for a fifth year, her second at Indiana after transferring from George Mason. The Hoosiers were already due another year from All-Big Ten first team picks Grace Berger and Mackenzie Holmes as well as forward Aleksa Gulbe, so that locked in the starting five to take another go at history after they already took Indiana to a place it had never been before in 2020-21.

Having those five back in the fold goes a long way. Last season, they combined for 1,721 of the 2,010 points the Hoosiers scored in the season (85.6 percent.) They also combined for 73.1 percent of the team’s rebounds and 80.3 percent of its assists. Four of the five averaged more than 30 minutes per game, Cardano-Hillary averaged 27.4 and only one other player averaged more than 10.

But the Hoosiers still need a bench, and it will take a very different look in 2021-22. Last season, Indiana had 10 other players on its roster outside of the five starters. Of those, just four remain — guards Grace Waggoner and Chloe Moore-McNeil, forward Kiandra Browne and center Arielle Wisne. They have added a pair of freshman guards in Kaitlin Peterson and Keyarah Berry, but have otherwise stood pat with the roster. Women’s basketball programs have an allotted 15 scholarships, but the Hoosiers are using just 11 of them.

The most recent defection was recent. Australian guard Paige Price announced earlier this month that she would return home after one season at Indiana to play professionally. She got just 18 minutes of action all of last season with 14 of those coming in four NCAA Tournament appearances. She scored just two points.

Prior to that, the Hoosiers saw five players transfer out. Jaelynn Penn, who started 10 games before suffering foot and ankle injuries and then opting out on the rest of the season, transferred to UCLA.

Hannah Noveroske, a former Michigan City star, transferred to Toledo after appearing in just 10 games as a sophomore. Keyanna Warthen, who was statistically Indiana’s most productive reserve guard, transferred to Southern Methodist for her fifth year after making 18 of her 35 field goal attempts in 2020-21 and averaging 7.6 minutes per game. Forward Danielle Patterson, a Brooklyn, N.Y., native and Notre Dame transfer, transferred home to St. John’s after averaging 7.7 minutes per game in her only season at Indiana. Guard Chanel Wilson left after playing a total of 33 minutes in 2020-21 and still does not have a transfer destination.

The Hoosiers still have time to add some bodies to the roster and space to do it. But if they chose not to, they have enough depth to get by, provided the starters stay healthy.

In Waggoner, Moore-McNeil, Peterson and Berry, they have four backups for the three starters at the three guard spots.

Waggoner has scored a total of 21 points in two seasons, but she’s been sure-handed with 14 career assists against eight turnovers in 189 minutes. Moore-McNeil, who scored 2,598 points in high school in Tennessee, struggled to make shots as a freshman but was steady with the ball with 17 assists to eight turnovers.

Peterson was a four-time all-state pick in Alabama and scored nearly 3,000 career points in her high school career. Berry, a Georgia native, scored 3,340 career points and was Class 6A Player of the Year in Georgia as a senior. She averaged 33.5 points per game this season and is the state’s second-all-time leading scorer.

The front court depth will be provided by returners, though that means a lot will be on the shoulders of Browne. She was the Hoosiers’ most effective bench player down the stretch and especially in the postseason. She converted on 15 of her 26 field goal attempts during the season (57.7 percent) and led all Indiana reserves with 33 rebounds. She can spell Gulbe at the 4 or Holmes at the 5 if need be and defend both of those possessions. The Hoosiers will need more from Wisne, who played a total of just 38 minutes last season, but at 6-5 she gives Indiana a true center off the bench.

Because of the talent in the starting lineup, the Hoosiers have every reason to believe they are primed for another NCAA Tournament run and a season at or near the top of the Big Ten. But if they can find more depth, it wouldn’t be a bad idea for them to take it.

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