'I don't think we're over it': Early exit from NCAA Tourney fuels IU women's basketball

BLOOMINGTON -- Indiana women's basketball never wants that feeling again.

The feeling of, as a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, losing in just the second round. The feeling of, as the host team, having to walk back into the locker room, heads hung low, tears welling up, as Miami celebrates making it to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament on the Assembly Hall court.

"It's not so much more focused on you know, losing against Miami, but kind of the feeling after and knowing that we've just felt horrible," senior All-American Mackenzie Holmes said. "We wish more than anything that we could do certain things over again."

It was an upset; a No. 9 seed takes down a No. 1 seed. And the Hoosiers were on the wrong side of it.

"I don't think we're over it," senior guard Sydney Parrish said. "I think that's kind of going to put us on a good first step into the season because I don't think you can get over it after the great season we had during the regular season and the postseason. I really, for me at least, I'm not over it. People still mention it a lot and it kind of hurts. I think that'll just be another thing that drives us through the season."

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The Hoosiers had multiple games slip out of their hands at the end of the 2022-23 season. First, it was the final game of the regular season, where Iowa star and National Player of the Year Caitlin Clark drained a last-second 3-pointer to take down IU, 76-75. Then, Holmes injured her knee in the first game of the Big Ten Tournament, and IU was knocked out in the conference semifinals by Ohio State.

Finally, it was the home court heartbreak.

"You've got to give credit where credit is due," head coach Teri Moren said. "Miami came out and punched us pretty good in that first half and we didn't respond. But we did play from behind. I thought we made it a game. I thought we had a chance there. It could have easily gone into overtime, but it didn't. I think to hear these guys talk about it, it's something that they remember. It's something that motivates them."

But she doesn't want them to forget the success they had: The Hoosiers went 28-4 overall, clinching the program's first Big Ten regular-season championship. Three late-season losses, in a year of a program-high 28 victories, shouldn't define them.

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"Those three games don't define the season that we had," Moren said. "It was incredible. I don't want to take anything away from that. You win the first-ever Big Ten championship in 40 years, you get the No. 1 seed, never happened in this program. There's a lot of things that you might list that did go wrong, but that list of all the things that went right is far greater."

Indiana's Mackenzie Holmes (54) and Grace Berger (34) kiss the Big Ten Championship Trophy after the second half of the Indiana versus Purdue women's basketball game at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall on Sunday, Feb. 19, 2023.
Indiana's Mackenzie Holmes (54) and Grace Berger (34) kiss the Big Ten Championship Trophy after the second half of the Indiana versus Purdue women's basketball game at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall on Sunday, Feb. 19, 2023.

Still, it can be motivation; just like the men's basketball NCAA championship banners hung in the north rafters of Assembly Hall are motivation. Those five banners, commemorating the times the Hoosier men were the best basketball team in the country, served as a backdrop to Moren's media day press conference Tuesday afternoon.

And, going into her 10th year as the head coach at IU, Moren has tasted what it's like to get close. Now, she thinks her 2023-24 squad has the ability to raise the banner. Yes, the Hoosiers lost their all-time winningest player and clutch shooter in Grace Berger, but they are returning four of five starters with an experienced bench.

Even more importantly, this team knows what it's like to be on the national stage. The Hoosiers will likely be a top-10 preseason team — and it's not something they'll shy away from.

"We've been so close," Moren said. "Anytime that you have the opportunity to get to a Sweet 16, get to an Elite 8, the way we have and you realize it's just that one game and you're playing for a Final Four, you're playing for a National Championship, we've tasted it, if you will. We know what it takes to get there. There's no question that we have everything we need in order to be able to do that, to win a national championship."

This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: IU women's basketball using early exit from NCAA Tournament as fuel