March 24, 2024 

Sights and sounds from a day of NCAA Tournament action in Bloomington

Indiana routed Fairfield and Oklahoma slipped past Florida Gulf Coast on Saturday to set the Round of 32 matchup

The seats of Assembly Hall were packed by 12:30 p.m, Taylor Swift music was blasting through the speakers, and fans wearing candy-stripes were itching for the tip-off countdown to wind down on Saturday afternoon. 

Continue reading with a subscription to The Next

Get unlimited access to women’s basketball coverage and help support our hardworking staff of writers, editors, and photographers by subscribing today.

Join today

The Hoosiers had been here — to the NCAA Tournament — plenty of times before. The hiring of Head Teri Moren in 2014 has especially increased their appearances. But this was the last weekend, however, that fans can sit in the seats of Assembly Hall and watch their All-American, Mackenzie Holmes

So when the buzzer finally sounded, Holmes entered to raucous applause both behind her and in front of her. 12,753 were present to fill out the stands and cheer on the Hoosiers as they faced 13-seed Fairfield. 

And the Hoosiers delivered. 

The Next, a 24/7/365 women’s basketball newsroom

The Next: A basketball newsroom brought to you by The IX. 24/7/365 women’s basketball coverage, written, edited and photographed by our young, diverse staff and dedicated to breaking news, analysis, historical deep dives and projections about the game we love.

Halftime changes made the difference for the Hoosiers

While the first half was a dogfight, Moren got the job done by making a halftime decision to “change everything.” The victory also snapped Fairfield’s 29-game win streak. 

The Hoosiers led by only four points at halftime, a testament to both the Stags’ fight and point guard Janelle Brown’s impressive performance. But Assembly Hall always serves as the Hoosier’s sixth man — and that energy was there at Fairfield. 

“The atmosphere,” Brown said, “that was hard to compete against. Couldn’t really hear plays, couldn’t hear what Coach was saying on the sideline.”

“I think they’re one of the best home court advantages period, let alone as a 4 seed,” head coach Carly Thibault-DuDonis said. “But it’s different when you go into this environment and now the pressure is on. I think they handled it really well in the first half.”

Fifth-year senior Sara Scalia scored 27 points on 5-of-10 shooting from beyond the arc, setting program records for most points and 3-pointers made in an NCAA Tournament game. 

The Hoosiers advance to the Round of 32, but are still haunted by last season’s second-round upset. With Holmes in better health, Indiana is more determined than ever to right the wrongs of last year. 

Add Locked On Women’s Basketball to your daily routine

Here at The Next, in addition to the 24/7/365 written content our staff provides, we also host the daily Locked On Women’s Basketball podcast. Join us Monday through Saturday each week as we discuss all things WNBA, collegiate basketball, basketball history and much more. Listen wherever you find podcasts or watch on YouTube.

Indiana looks next to Monday night match with Oklahoma

The Hoosiers will face off against 5-seed Oklahoma, who just nearly beat out 13-seed Florida Gulf Coast on Saturday evening. 

While the crowd dispersed in Assembly Hall just before the 4 p.m. tip, the lower-level bleachers were filled with fans from each school — and they were still loud. Oklahoma was late to turn in their starting lineups to officials, leading to a technical foul before the game began. 

The Eagles used that momentum and took an early 13-point lead on three shots from deep, enforcing the notion that every player is a “shooter”, as listed on their roster. They held control for the first quarter, but Oklahoma warmed up quickly. The Sooners outscored the Eagles 18-10 in the second quarter and 20-15 in the third. 

“They [Florida Gulf Coast] started off hot, and then I think we finally gathered ourselves and got our feet underneath us and after that, I think it was just staying confident and staying present in what we were doing and what we had worked on this whole week,” Sooners guard Payton Verhulst said. 

By the fourth quarter, Oklahoma was in their groove, but the Eagles still hung around. There were four lead changes in the final ten minutes of the game, but it all came down to the last 0.4 seconds, where the Eagles trailed 73-70. 

Florida Gulf Coast led for 31 minutes of the contest, but one shot would make or break their tournament hopes. 

Uju Ezeudu was open nearly five feet beyond the 3-point line. She had an open shot and an opportunity to tie the game up. But March Madness wasn’t on her side. The ball bounced off the front of the rim, and the Sooners survived and advanced. 

“I just told them that I know that it hurts because I’m hurting right now,” Florida Gulf Coast head coach Karl Smesko said of his message to the team. “We wanted to be preparing for another game and having an opportunity to go to a Sweet 16. But I just told them that I was really proud of them. People dream of the season that we had this year, to get this opportunity, to win multiple championships.”

It was a heartbreaker in Bloomington, but the two top-seeded teams came out victorious on Saturday. 

Get 24/7 soccer coverage with The Equalizer

The Next is partnering with The Equalizer to bring more women’s sports stories to your inbox. Subscribers to The Next receive 50% off their subscription to The Equalizer for 24/7 coverage of women’s soccer.

Written by Talia Goodman

Leave a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.