March 27, 2024 

A year after heartbreak, Indiana can rejoice

Mackenzie Holmes' 29 points punches Indiana's ticket to Albany

It was the most crushing loss imaginable.

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Indiana had won the Big Ten regular season title for the first time in 40 years and secured a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament for the first time in school history. The Hoosiers had depth and versatility and elite skill, headlined by Grace Berger and Mackenzie Holmes. The team’s skill was also complemented by the likes of Sara Scalia and Sydney Parrish and Yarden Garzon and Chloe Moore-McNeil

It looked to be their best chance of reaching the Final Four for the first time in school history. Yet, they didn’t even make it out of the tournament’s first weekend.

The tears flowed as soon as the final horn sounded on No. 8 Miami (FL)’s 70-68 upset over Indiana at Assembly Hall last March in the Round of 32. It wasn’t supposed to end that way.

“It’s always hard,” head coach Teri Moren said in the ensuing postgame press conference. “Winning is hard.”

So when the No. 4 Hoosiers escaped this Monday night with a 75-68 win over No. 5 Oklahoma* to punch their ticket to the Sweet 16, there was a collective exhale. The five returning players could rejoice on the floor, and Berger could bask in the joy from the stands. For the third time in four years, Indiana is headed to the second weekend of the tournament. They will face off against No. 1 South Carolina.

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“I didn’t want to end this game with a loss … couldn’t let it happen again,” said Holmes, who led the Hoosiers with 29 points. “I know how it felt last year. We all know how it felt last year, and I was going to do everything in my power to not let that happen again.”

For the 2023-24 season, Indiana lost just one starter in Berger and brought back a tremendously-talented core headlined by Holmes. This season, however, took a different turn. The Hoosiers started last season 12-0 and won 26 of their first 27 games. This year, they lost to Stanford in their second game of the season by 32 points. It would take some time to grow used to playing without Berger’s steadiness at the point guard position. 

In mid-January, Indiana lost to Iowa by 27 points; in mid-February, it lost to Illinois by 20. The Hoosiers didn’t lose a game by more than five points all of last season.

But this group, perhaps hardened by last year’s loss to the Hurricanes, stayed the course. They managed to finish the regular season 24-4, and they hosted the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament.

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Indiana now turns its attention to the monumental task of taking down the top-seeded Gamecocks of South Carolina on Friday. But for the moment on Monday night, Moren and the Hoosiers could take a deep exhale and feel the excitement.

“It’s bothered us, it really has,” Moren said Monday of last year’s ending. “If that gave them some extra motivation, that very well could have.”

Added Parrish: “I thought about it earlier this week, and it made me think about last year how we lost. Me and Grace Berger’s lockers were next to each other, and … just knowing that I let her leave the Hall with a loss,” she said. “Just playing with these girls this past year has been so much fun. We said it every single game that at home that we need to protect Assembly Hall, protect our home court, protect the Hall. We did that this year.”

*Editor’s note (Mar. 28, 11:00 a.m. ET): An earlier version of this story misstated the team Indiana defeated. It was Oklahoma, not Tennessee.

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Written by Eric Rynston-Lobel

Eric Rynston-Lobel has been a contributor to The Next since August 2022. He covered Northwestern women's basketball extensively in his four years as a student there for WNUR and now works as a sports reporter for the Concord Monitor in New Hampshire.

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