Sara Scalia’s energy, 3-point shooting lift Indiana to first round NCAA tournament win

  • 03/23/2024 6:26 pm in

Before Sara Scalia came to Indiana, nobody knew who she was.

Sure, they knew Scalia. She was the sharpshooter from Minnesota who would kill you if your perimeter defense was anything less than suffocating. She wore number 14 and sported a headband and a ponytail for every game. They knew what she looked like and how she played.

They knew Scalia.

They didn’t know Sara.

When the Minnesota transfer first arrived in Bloomington for the 2022-23 season, even her new teammates didn’t really know her. They all saw her as a quiet, reserved player who was stone-cold from the perimeter and never changed her expression. But as they began practicing and playing together, the Hoosiers became closer. That’s when Sara appeared.

First, it was a small smile at the end of a game, a high five on the bench or a half-hug with a teammate. Then, it was a self-satisfied smirk after seeing a 3-pointer swish through the net and a jog back down the court with some swagger in her step.

By the end of her first season as a Hoosier, Scalia was showing a little personality.

By the middle of her second season as a Hoosier, Scalia was showing her personality every time she stepped on the hardwood. Whether she raised her arms to pump up the crowd or chest-bumped a teammate, some sort of celebration from the guard was almost expected.

When Indiana’s first game in the NCAA tournament rolled around, she didn’t disappoint. Scalia propelled Indiana to an 89-56 win over Fairfield Saturday afternoon, scoring a game-high 27 points on 5-of-10 shooting from deep.

Twelve of Scalia’s points came in the third quarter when the Hoosiers outscored the Stags 26-15 to jump out to a commanding 64-49 lead heading into the fourth quarter. But even more impactful than her shooting and ball-handling was her energy.

Scalia was so fired up after one layup early in the third quarter that she started talking to her teammates on the bench. Whatever she said, it was enough to get Chloe Moore-McNeil to smile — and Moore-McNeil isn’t known for her emotion, either.

“You can’t help but smile when somebody like Sara acts that way,” Moore-McNeil said. “Obviously Sara is pretty quiet most of the time, and when you see her have that burst of energy and pump the crowd up as well you get hype about that.”

Scalia was anything but quiet Saturday afternoon, making statements first with her scoring and then with her voice and facial expressions later on. Scalia took advantage of open lanes to the basket from the opening tip and brought defensive pressure on Fairfield’s up-tempo offense. But that third quarter rolled around. The 3-pointers started falling and the celebrations started coming.

“Once somebody on the other team starts talking in her ear a little bit, it flips a switch and that’s when Sara starts being Sara, and it’s a lot of fun to see,” Sydney Parrish said.

While Hoosier fans have been able to see Sara be Sara more and more this season, her teammates have had first-hand experience in the guard’s evolution into her true self — few more than Lenée Beaumont.

“It’s probably the most humbling experience I’ve ever been a part of,” Beaumont said with a smile. “I would just get yelled at and yelled at because I couldn’t stop her, to be completely honest. But watching her do what she can do out there is incredible.”

Beaumont and the rest of the Hoosiers know the work Scalia puts in every single day. The sharpshooter is always in the gym, and the way everyone talks about her work ethic is reminiscent of how Ali Patberg and Grace Berger were revered for their drive.

“She’s in the gym every day, oh my gosh, shooting and shooting and shooting,” Parrish said.

“She comes back after practice and shoots (more),” Beaumont added.

It’s unsurprising that Scalia always has the green light when the ball is in her hands. The Hoosiers know what she can do, and they know what it will do for the team and the crowd cheering them on.

“Any time she shoots it, we believe it’s going to go in, that’s how much confidence we have in her,” Teri Moren said. “But the emotional part of it, it’s something that we’re now used to. (It was) in there for such a long time, we just didn’t see it, but this has sort of been her breakout year.”

It’s been a breakout year, indeed. Scalia’s swagger and celebrations have raised her confidence to the point that the guard is shooting 43.5 percent from deep and continuously breaking her own record for most single-season 3-pointers, now at 100.

When she came to Indiana, Scalia just wanted to win. She was determined and motivated, but introverted.

“When I first met her, she was pretty quiet,” Beaumont said. “I was kind of scared to talk to her.”

Now, Scalia’s teammates are anything but scared of her. Why would they be? They know Sara now. But everyone else also knows Sara. The difference is they’re all scared of her.

(Photo credit: IU Athletics)

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