BLOOMINGTON — Indiana is on the doorstep.
After beating Michigan, 68-52, on Thursday, the Hoosiers are within reach of history. They can clinch at least a share of their first Big Ten title in 40 years on Sunday with a win over arch-rival Purdue.
Indiana has built itself into a juggernaut in recent years and achieved milestone victories on several occasions. This win over Michigan marked a program record for victories in a single season, vaulting IU to 25-1.
But the chance to win a conference championship at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall — with the Barn Burner Trophy on the line, in front of the program’s first-ever sellout crowd, on senior day — might top all previous opportunities at history for IU women’s basketball.
“From the beginning, this group has had lofty goals,” IU head coach Teri Moren said. “We understand that in order to achieve the goals that we want, we’ve got to win a lot of games. I always say we’ve got to win all of them. But we’ve got to win a lot of games in order to position ourself to win championships. I think that (our kids are) laser-focused on their goals that they have.”
IU came close to the Big Ten championship last year, ultimately finishing two games behind Ohio State and Iowa. The Hoosiers were eliminated from title contention before they took the court at Maryland for their regular-season finale. A slump with three losses in four games near the end dashed IU’s hopes.
In 2020-21, Indiana was even closer, coming up one game short of Maryland. IU went into its last game against Purdue with its chances still alive, but needing a Terrapins loss to Penn State later that day, which didn’t happen.
The Hoosiers finished three games out of the top spot in 2019-20, when Mackenzie Holmes was a freshman.
But now, Indiana is the target, not the chaser. IU controls its own fate. The Hoosiers don’t have to rely on anyone else for help to add another line to their Big Ten Champions banner.
“We’re writing a story right now, this group is. We control our destiny,” Moren said after IU’s win over Iowa. “My charge to our team is to not let anyone else hold the pen.”
Those previous IU teams, particularly the most recent two, were veteran-laden like this group is. Those groups with Ali Patberg, Aleksa Gulbe, and Grace Berger, among others, leaned on experience as they continued to lift Indiana women’s basketball to new heights.
This edition, though, is different. There’s still a lot of internal experience, with Berger, Holmes, and junior Chloe Moore-McNeil, and transfers Sara Scalia and Sydney Parrish bring a wealth of knowledge from their previous schools. Even upperclassman reserves like Kiandra Browne and Alyssa Geary have been around the sport long enough to bring that mindset.
“I think experience is the best teacher, and they have a ton of experience with Holmes and Berger leading the charge. And then you throw the rest of their squad in there, I just think experience is great, they have maturity, they have a sense of urgency, and I think that’s all playing in their favor,” Michigan head coach Kim Barnes Arico said. “They’re hard to guard, you can’t take off of any one player because they all can guard. And I think that makes them really special.”
Berger’s senior day will be a significant one, the last regular-season home game for one of the top players in program history. She and Geary are the two being recognized Sunday — The Daily Hoosier confirmed through an IU spokesman that Holmes and Scalia informed Indiana’s staff that they will return for 2023-24.
The Purdue game, most likely, won’t be Berger’s final game at Assembly Hall, with IU in line to host NCAA Tournament games for the second straight year. But it will present one of the biggest opportunities of her career. She’s played in two Sweet 16 games and one Elite Eight game, as well as a Big Ten Tournament championship game.
But this is different. For all the success Indiana’s had in recent years, this era of the program has not yet reached banner status at Assembly Hall. Beating Arizona in San Antonio in 2021 or topping Iowa in Indianapolis in 2022 would’ve achieved that. But IU came up short both times.
The Hoosiers now have a chance to do it on their home floor. A win over Purdue, and the “Women’s Big Ten Champions” banner hanging above the Spirit of ’76 Club will gain a third line.
Indiana had this type of shot at immortality with the WNIT championship game in 2018. But this is different. That day kickstarted the program’s momentum into this current era, and led to this day.
Should Iowa lose at Nebraska on Saturday, IU could clinch the title outright on Sunday. And a Big Ten title could just be the start of something even bigger.
But regardless of those circumstances, this is a major moment for Indiana women’s basketball. With the emotion of senior day and a rivalry game, and the opportunity in front of the team, it’s the biggest regular season game in program history.
The Hoosiers would much rather secure the title before heading to Iowa City for the final game of the regular season. And they have the chance to make that happen, on a court they haven’t lost on all season.
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