BLOOMINGTON — Disappointed 32. Not Sweet Sixteen like last year. Not Elite Eight like two years ago.
Instead, shock and hurt, falling in the second round of the NCAA women’s basketball tournament. At home. In Assembly Hall. As a No. 1 seed. After losing just three other times all season.
The 70-68 defeat to the University of Miami Monday night will haunt for a long time.
The winningest season in Indiana women’s basketball history — 28-4 — turned out not to be the best. This game became the epitome of March Madness at its most perilous, a time of year in college basketball when results are as unpredictable as the weather.
Miami (21-12), the ninth seed in the Greenville 2 region, led the whole game, by as much as 14 points early and by 12 at the half, while countering Indiana’s usually highly efficient and multipronged offense.
“It stings,” Indiana head coach Teri Moren said. “It hurts. But it should if you’re competitors and it means anything to you, the way these kids work. Like I told them, if they didn’t have tears and they weren’t emotional, then I would wonder what all the hard work was for.”
The Hoosiers shed tears a day after the Miami men eliminated the IU male counterparts in a second-round game in Albany, New York. No one connected with Hoosier basketball will ever want to vacation in South Florida again.
One subplots in the women’s contest involved the centers. Indiana’s 6-foot-3 Mackenzie Holmes missed IU’s first-round victory over Tennessee Tech nursing a sore knee and while Miami eked out a one-point win over Oklahoma State.
She faced off against the Hurricanes’ 6-4 Lola Pendande (19 points, seven blocks) from Spain, whose hair is as long as some players are tall. Holmes, a first-team All-American who had not practiced full-out recently, was out of rhythm in the first half but finished with 22 points and nine rebounds.
Unfazed being assigned to cover the star, Pendande struggled to digest Miami’s accomplishment of winning two games in an NCAA tournament for the first time.
“It doesn’t feel real still,” Pendande said of advancing to the Sweet Sixteen. “Can you believe it? We’re really here.”
If Pendande was smiling, Holmes was crying, choking up in the post-game press conference, having difficulty believing Indiana’s flip-side status of being done for the year.
“It’s hard to put into words right now,” Holmes said.
Before the NCAAs began, Moren said teams playing their best basketball would prevail. Miami did and Indiana didn’t.
In the early going, not even with a crowd of 14,000-plus roaring for them could the Hoosiers get comfortable.
“In that first half, we dug ourselves a hole,” Holmes said.
A big third quarter cut Miami’s lead to a single point, and much of the fourth period IU hovered. The score was tied at 58, 60 and 65, but the Hoosiers could not push ahead.
The last minute was ride-to-the-rescue time. Miami’s Destiny Harden (18 points) sank one free throw for a 66-65 lead. Indiana had the ball with 40 seconds to go. Guard Chloe Moore-McNeil (nine points, four assists) burst free for a layup — and overshot the basket.
Grace Berger (17 points, six assists), in her final IU game, took one of her favorite-spot, mid-range jumpers — and missed.
Miami’s Haley Cavinder hit two free throws for a 68-65 lead. Somehow, IU kept getting the ball back for last-ditch tries, and this time, freshman guard Yarden Garzon from Israel (10 points) hit a beyond-the-arc three to tie the game at 68 with 6.6 seconds remaining.
The coaching orders were simple: Stop them and we’re in overtime. IU didn’t stop the Hurricanes. Harden dribbled toward the lane and hit a short shot with three-plus seconds left.
Trailing by two, Hoosiers again had the ball and a prayer and just enough time. But they rushed downcourt and Moore-McNeil bobbled the ball, and the last chance evaporated.
“We got good shots,” Moren said. “We got the shots we wanted. We just didn’t get them to go down.”
Miami coach Katie Meier displayed empathy, calling IU’s situation “heartbreaking” since typically Moore-McNeil’s and Berger’s shots would have gone in.
Garzon was praised. But she wasn’t in the mood to hear it, saying, “That shot, it doesn’t matter.”
Berger, a 6-foot honorable mention All-American who overcame a knee injury midseason, is off to the pros. Much of the post-game IU talk was a valedictory to her career impacting the team, the program and Hoosier history.
“The ball just wasn’t rolling our way tonight,” Berger said.
The ball did bounce IU’s way most of the season. The Hoosiers won their first regular-season Big Ten championship in 40 years after being picked to place third. They sold out Assembly Hall with 17,222 fans for the first time. Their No. 2 national ranking is their highest ever. The No. 1 seed for the NCAAs was also a first. The 28 victories are the most ever. Altogether, IU lost just four games by a total of 12 points.
“I choose to focus on all of the great things,” Moren said. “I’m sad, but when I look back, I’m really proud.”
March Madness triumph brings joy, but losses bring March Sadness.