Indiana might never want to put its pink alternate jerseys away.
The Hoosiers—wearing pink breast cancer awareness jerseys they donned in a 66-38 win over Northwestern—picked up the marquee win their résumé lacked with a 72-61 victory over the No. 20 Michigan Wolverines at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall.
“We love the pink jerseys,” junior point guard Tyra Buss said.
Indiana’s first ranked win of the season immediately becomes its best looking victory on its NCAA Tournament résumé. The Wolverines (21-6, 10-3) entered the day at No. 32 in the RPI and are a virtual lock to earn a comfortable seed come March.
Barring some sort of collapse between upcoming games against Nebraska (Sunday on the road), Iowa (Feb. 22 at home) and Illinois (Feb. 25 on the road), the Hoosiers (18-8, 8-5) should figure to be on the right end of the NCAA Tourament bubble. All three upcoming opponents are in the bottom half of the Big Ten while Indiana is now holding onto fourth.
“They’re all big,” IU head coach Teri Moren said, “but I thought this one was a big one for us.”
Buss led the way over Michigan with 21 points, but senior guard Karlee McBride was the unexpected surprise of the night. Freshman Ria Gulley replaced McBride in the starting lineup for the fifth time of the season, but it was McBride lighting up the scoresheet off the bench with season-high 13 points.
McBride, who’s struggled to get going this season, was a key cog in IU building a 23-8 lead after one quarter that the Hoosiers never let go of. She dropped six points in that stretch and then another six in the second to help Indiana to a 40-22 advantage at the half.
She finished 4-of-8 shooting overall and was 2-of-5 from long range.
Michigan sophomore center Hollie Thome, who the Wolverines typically revolve their offense around, struggled to get comfortable against IU senior center Jenn Anderson and the rest of the Hoosiers’ post players.
Junior forward Amanda Cahill was particularly impressive as a defender, Moren said. She’d go “off the script” throughout the game whenever Thome caught the ball and freelance her way into disrupting the ball.
Thome scored just two first-half points and finished with 10 points and seven rebounds.
Indiana led by as many as 23 late in the first half and maintained a 19-point lead heading into the fourth quarter only to see it nearly evaporate. Michigan made a late charge to get within eight points with 3:18 left but never got any closer.
With 3:01 left and Michigan trailing by nine, junior guard Katelyn Flaherty fired up a 3-point try that rolled around the cylinder only to fall out. Thome rebounded the ball briefly but threw it away trying to save it from going out of bounds.
Buss finished with a layup in transition to put IU up 11 and virtually put the game out of reach.
Indiana trails Michigan by two games now for third in the Big Ten and likely won’t catch up, but that’s not as pressing at the moment. What matters is that the Hoosiers are trending up the NCAA Tournament seed line after spending the last few weeks on the bubble.
IU’s work isn’t over—far from it.
But the Hoosiers are in a good spot, and the pink jerseys are coming back in Lincoln this weekend when IU plays Nebraska.
“I’ll probably have to fight for our kids,” Moren said. “They want to continue to wear that. I think it’s only fitting February is Breast Cancer Awareness month. I’ll continue to lobby for them if that’s what they want to do.”
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