With a 69-65 win over the 7-seed Texas Longhorns, the 10-seed Indiana Hoosiers turned in one of just two upsets on the first day of the Women’s Tournament (because nine-over-eights don’t count), bouncing a team that spent a considerable amount of the season ranked in the Top 25.
After the Hoosiers jumped out to a six-point lead through one quarter, Texas seized control of the contest and looked to be well on their way to a matchup with site host Oregon, outscoring Indiana 20-6 in the second quarter.
But Jaelynn Penn wouldn’t let the Hoosiers go down quietly. The sophomore from Louisville, Kentucky, who led all scorers with 24 points, added seven in the third quarter, which Indiana dominated 23-12 to take a three-point, 52-49 lead into the final frame.
In a 4th-quarter marred by abysmal officiating — both ways — the Hoosiers were able to outlast a furious flurry by the Longhorns, which saw Texas take a three-point lead with six minutes remaining, 59-56. But Bendu Yeaney, who added 17 points of her own, scored on the next two possessions to give Indiana a 60-59 lead. A few minutes later, she made two free throws to give Indiana a 64-63 lead that would not be relinquished thanks to Penn dagger from downtown on the very next possession.
The Hoosiers (21-12) will face the 2-seed Oregon Ducks (30-4), who easily discarded 15-seed Portland State, 78-40, on their own floor in Eugene. Tip off is scheduled for 9:00 p.m. on Sunday night.
Here are three things that stand out from Friday’s win:
Teri Moren is building something special.
Friday night’s game was the kind that this program has generally lost. Actually, to be more historically accurate, these are the kinds of games this program has never even played in. But in five years at the helm at Indiana, Teri Moren now has twice as many NCAA Tournament wins as the program had in its history before her arrival. She now also has the four winningest seasons in the program’s history.
But back to Friday night — Indiana could’ve folded like a cheap lawn chair after Texas’s dominant second quarter, but instead won both the third and fourth quarters to advance to the second round. That they didn’t fold is just the latest demonstrative exhibit of a stunning change of culture during Moren’s tenure.
Indiana survived some horrendous officiating.
The officiating on Friday night was pitiful. This is likely the result of the money that athletic departments spend on women’s basketball and the quality of official that they can, therefore, attract to the women’s game. Indiana took the brunt end of some awful calls in the fourth quarter Friday night, especially in the final two or three minutes, that threatened the outcome of the game.
All credit is due to the Hoosiers and the coaching staff for not coming unglued because I was more offended from my couch than the team appeared to be on the floor, even when Breanna Wise got cross-checked like a hockey player about three rows into the stands on an inbound play as Indiana clung to a two-point lead with 15 seconds or so remaining.
The Hoosiers have their hands full on Sunday.
An unfortunate reality of the women’s game is that neutral sites aren’t utilized in the tournament until the second weekend. So when the Hoosiers take the (incredibly ugly and breathtakingly horrible) floor on Sunday night, they will be at a distinct disadvantage, playing thousands of miles from home and in front of a hostile, pro-Oregon crowd in Eugene.
Bonus Thing: The timing of this couldn’t be better and the sky is the limit.
This is, in no way, an attempt to make this about anyone other than the ladies wearing the cream and crimson right now. But the fact of the matter is that the program’s recent success couldn’t have come at a better time for it or for the Indiana fanbase. In the past two seasons, the women’s program has had their own spotlight in the postseason.
Last year, while the men’s team sat at home, the women stormed to an NIT title that saw a record 13,000 fans at Assembly Hall for the final.
This year, while the men disappointingly floundered their way into the NIT, the women have the NCAA Tournament stage all to themselves.
And these well-deserved but rarely received opportunities for attention are coming at a time when the future seems brightest. No matter what happens on Sunday, or for the rest of this tournament, next season may be even better. The Hoosiers will lose just one starter, Kim Royster, and five of their top six scorers will return. And they will welcome two five-star recruits and a Top-20 recruiting class to campus next year: MacKenzie Holmes, a Top-100 recruit and finalist for Maine Miss Basketball award and Bedford North Lawrence star Jorie Allen, a fellow Top-100 prospect and a finalist for Indiana Miss Basketball, who finished her high school career with over 1,900 points.
(1) Unprecedented success, (2) unprecedented attention, and (3) a Top-20 recruiting class on its way? The future is oh-so bright for the Indiana women’s basketball program.