Fueled by mental toughness, Indiana pushes past Oklahoma for Sweet Sixteen berth

  • 03/26/2024 8:15 am in

It looked like it was happening again.

Two minutes and 41 seconds remained. Indiana’s time was running out and another disappointing loss in the second round of the NCAA tournament soon appeared to be the harsh reality.

Oklahoma’s Aubrey Joens made her free throw to complete a 3-point play, making it a 64-60 game in favor of the Sooners. The Hoosiers were down by a pair of baskets with little time. The Hoosiers had two choices: go out with a loss at home like last March or walk away a winner. Indiana chose the winning option.

In a thrilling comeback, the Hoosiers defeated Oklahoma 75-68 in a nail-biting victory that saw both teams battle throughout — not much separated the two teams, as Monday’s game was as close as a contest gets. The game had 21 different lead changes, but the final deciding factor was something that Indiana had shown the entire year.


This group has repeatedly shown it and the final minutes against Oklahoma were the latest example. Mackenzie Holmes scored 12 of her 29 points in the fourth quarter as she guided her team to a third Sweet Sixteen appearance in four seasons.

After Oklahoma built its four-point lead, Indiana forced crucial stops to take control the rest of the way. After the Sooners led by four, the Hoosiers forced two missed shots and back-to-back turnovers — big-time stops in pivotal moments.

That sparked a 10-0 run for Indiana, which gave them the lead for good. Over the final 2:41, Oklahoma scored just four points and was outscored by the Hoosiers 15-4.

Moments like this in March make or break your season. Indiana could have easily slipped into the pressure of the moment and gone by those final minutes with a different outcome. But the Hoosiers stuck together and showed a level of connectedness they had shown multiple times before.

“Syd (Parrish) hit on it; they really do care about each other,” Teri Moren said. “They’re friends on and off the floor. They celebrate each other’s success …Give our kids credit, it was, it was back and forth, it was kind of like that boxing match giving each other their best — and again you guys y’all know this, the game is, it’s runs.

“Everybody has their runs and even when they hit the back-to-back to back I think threes and we called the timeout, we talked about, okay, that was their run. Now we have to respond with our own run.”

The final moments against Oklahoma also brought back memories that Indiana didn’t want to repeat — a loss at home in the round of 32.

A year ago today, Indiana was in the same situation with a different outcome. Miami’s Destiny Harden made a runner-in-the-lane to break the then-one-seeded Hoosiers’ hearts at home. Indiana’s best season in program history came to an end, and to this day, it haunts the Hoosiers’ dreams.

“I tried to not go down the rabbit hole yesterday with you guys in terms of did it still bother us how things went last year, but it’s bothered us, it really has,” Moren said. “If that gave them some extra motivation, that very well could have, you know, I selfishly wanted Mack (Holmes) and Sara (Scalia) and Arielle (Wisne) to win their last game in the Hall. But to be able to do it for a trip to the Sweet 16 makes it even sweeter.”

Indiana finished the game the way they know best, through the on and off-the-court mentality that Moren and the rest of the staff have installed in this team.

Mackenzie Holmes touched on it postgame. Some had questions surrounding this team’s toughness at the start of the season. Well, doubt no more.

“I think maybe the outsiders were questioning that about our team early on in the season, our toughness, our competitiveness,” Holmes said. “But I think we’ve done a great job of changing that narrative and showing that we’re a team that’s just going to fight for 40 minutes no matter what the score is.”

The Hoosiers knew it would be a difficult battle from the start but could finish what they had set out to do. Indiana now advances to the Sweet Sixteen off a performance that showed the identity of this year’s team. The team better team down the stretch was going to win this game. That’s precisely what happened.

“I told ’em that I thought the team that wanted it the most was going to win it tonight and I thought that clearly especially in the fourth they were a team that really wanted to win,” Moren said.

(Photo credit: IU Athletics)

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