No stranger to adversity, Indiana women’s basketball is digging deep and trusting each other

  • 01/24/2024 8:04 am in

Chloe Moore-McNeil has seen this before. She’s seen her team suffer demoralizing losses and work hard to bounce back. She’s seen her teammates sustain injuries and go through the rehabilitation processes to return to the floor. She’s seen how her team reacts to hardship and often leads the charge to get through it.

She’s no stranger to adversity and neither is Indiana women’s basketball.

That adversity has come in various forms for the Hoosiers in the last few seasons, from as small as underperforming in one quarter of a game to as big as a shocking loss in the NCAA tournament. Despite consistently earning praise on a national level, Indiana has had its fair share of struggles.

This season is no different.

An early 32-point loss to Stanford in November was a wakeup call for the Hoosiers, telling them they had to improve.

Teri Moren called it a butt-kicking. Sydney Parrish said the team had to stick together and work to get past the loss. Indiana then went on to win 13 straight games, beating teams like Tennessee, Michigan and Nebraska handily. All signs pointed to the Hoosiers hitting their stride, finding their confidence and playing some of their best basketball.

Then, they went to Iowa.

It was a similar game to that against Stanford — another top-15 matchup on the road in a challenging environment against a highly skilled opponent. Iowa ran away with the game, winning 84-57 and handing Indiana its second loss.

Mackenzie Holmes was blunt in the postgame press conference, calling the loss unacceptable. What no one said, but the body language suggested, was that it was also embarrassing. Indiana versus Iowa was supposed to be the matchup of the season, and in the first iteration, the Hoosiers didn’t show up like they expected they would.

That made them mad. It made them disappointed, frustrated and even more motivated to improve. So that’s what they started working on.

“I thought we underperformed, I thought we looked disconnected, I thought at times we looked uninspired,” Moren said about the game against Iowa. “We didn’t build this program on those things. We built this program on our toughness.”

Being tough is somewhat of a double-edged sword; you can’t be tough unless you go through hard times, but going through hard times is difficult and no one really wants to go through hardships if they don’t have to. It’s human nature.

Like Moren said, though, Indiana built itself on its toughness. So after the Iowa loss, the Hoosiers came out and beat Minnesota 85-62 and took down Purdue 74-68 in a full team effort both times.

“What a fabulous game,” Moren said after beating Purdue. “I thought our kids had to really dig down deep.”

Wins in the Big Ten most often require more grit, determination and better basketball, simply because of the caliber of the conference. Against the Boilermakers, though, the Hoosiers needed even more of those qualities than usual — from everyone on the team — because they were without one of their greatest difference-makers.

Sydney Parrish had a walking boot on her right foot and was in street clothes rather than a uniform. The only Indiana native on the team, who had proven herself as a facilitator, rebounder and high-level shooter, wouldn’t play in the rivalry game. Indiana was down a starter, but Parrish was more than just that.

“She is our energy,” Moren said. “We had to have other people step up.”

Step up, the Hoosiers did. Most notably? Moore-McNeil.

The senior guard recorded a new career-high of 20 points, made three 3-pointers and led the team with four assists. She knew what she needed to do to help her team, and she did it. Just like she did last year.

“We kind of dealt with the same thing last year with Grace Berger,” Moore-McNeil said. “So adversity is nothing new to us.”

Berger, an Indiana women’s basketball legend if there ever was one, suffered an injury last season that rendered her unable to play for nine games from the end of November to the beginning of January. As Indiana’s primary ball-handler and de facto leader on the court, Berger’s injury dealt Indiana arguably the most challenging hand the program had received in a long time.

But in her absence, the Hoosiers went 8-1. They beat No. 6 North Carolina 87-63 in the first game without her, defeated Nebraska in overtime and only lost to Michigan State 83-78. That game against the Spartans highlighted the Hoosiers’ weaknesses typically patched up by Berger. But it was also Indiana’s first loss of the season — bound to come eventually — against a team that was more prepared to give it their all.

After that loss, Indiana won 14 straight games. Moore-McNeil stepped up and assumed the primary point guard role, which she commands today.

Does any of that sound familiar?

Parrish’s status is currently unknown, prompting questions about what Indiana will do to cope with her absence if that is what it comes to. The questions are warranted; Parrish is one of Indiana’s most consistent 3-point shooters and her energy is infectious. Without her, Indiana is missing a crucial piece to the puzzle.

But the Hoosiers have already proven they can win without her. They made a season-high 15 3-pointers against Purdue and rallied around each other, demonstrating to themselves and everyone around them that they can succeed without a key player — just like last year.

“We’ve been here before, adversity strikes,” Moren said. “Chloe said it best; we’ve been through it. We didn’t like having to go through it but we went through it so we do have that experience.”

Indiana knows what it’s like to lose — whether losing a game or a player. They also know what it’s like to come together and play their best regardless of the circumstances. Only time will tell what Indiana will look like in the next few games. But if history is any indication, they should be as tight-knit as ever.

(Photo credit: IU Athletics)

Filed to: