IU women’s hoops talks of national championship; Hoosiers begin season on Thursday


BLOOMINGTON — There was no shyness about it. No false modesty.

When Teri Moren greeted the sports media in Assembly Hall recently to discuss her upcoming Indiana University women’s basketball season, she announced the Hoosiers are good enough to win the 2023-24 NCAA title.

This is unusual behavior among coaches, who more commonly duck bold predictions. Yet with all but one key player returning from a 28-4 team that was ranked as high as No. 2 nationally by The Associated Press, Moren – and her players – might have been ridiculed if they retreated to one-game-at-a-time cliché speak.

Win it all is the plan. They said it loudly.

“I’m a firm believer you first write down all of your goals and you have to talk about your goals,” Moren reiterated in a later interview. “For us, it’s not unrealistic. It’s not off an arrogance. It’s not being boastful. That’s the ultimate goal, I think, for any basketball team.”

Moren, a one-time high school star in Seymour and a college player at Purdue, is in her 10th season coaching the Hoosiers. She has built the program from after-thought to national power, following successful stints at University of Indianapolis and Indiana State.

The Hoosiers are 200-93 under Moren, won at least 20 games in all but one year and have reached the NCAA Elite Eight and Sweet Sixteen.

This club is thinking Final Four at a minimum and going all the way to the title as an option. Grace Berger is now a guard for the Indiana Fever in the WNBA, but all other starters and chief backups return, plus a notable recruiting class.

Last year, IU sold out Assembly Hall for the first time, and team success led to changes in ticket policies going beyond a simple walkup crowd. There are now expectations, but none grander than those harbored by the players.

“I think we have the pieces,” senior All-American Mackenzie Holmes said of becoming national champs. “I think it’s possible for us. We have a team that’s capable.”

The 6-foot-3 Holmes from Maine is a chief reason why the Hoosiers are capable. She averaged 22.3 points and 7.3 rebounds per game last season, and the only thing that ever slowed her was wear and tear on her health.

Guards Yarden Garzon (11.1 points) from Israel, Chloe Moore-McNeil (9.5 points, 4.8 assists) from Tennessee and Sara Scalia (9.5 points) from Minnesota, plus forward Sydney Parrish (12 points) of Fishers, provide a wide range of weapons.

There is height and depth off the bench. The one haunting piece of history for the Hoosiers was how the season ended. They were shockingly upset in the second round of the NCAA tournament by Miami at home. It was a crushing loss, bringing tears and disbelief to a team that won a Big Ten regular-season title.

“I don’t think we’re over it,” Parrish said this fall. “It still hurts.”

Moren, who won regional and national coach of the year awards, spent part of the offseason as an assistant coach for USA Basketball in Spain. And the Hoosiers played in Greece, which helped integrate new and old players and somewhat submerged the Miami loss.

“We have to let it go,” Holmes said. “We have to move past that.”

The aim is to somehow bend the bad experience into a useful one that was a worst-case scenario in a season filled with months of good experiences.

“The biggest thing is not to be satisfied,” said Scalia, who has a deadly three-point shot. “We did a lot of good things last year.”

Holmes, who needed a calculator to keep track of the number of honors she won, could have called it a college career and gone to the WNBA, but she returned.

“She’s just the hardest worker I’ve ever been around,” Parrish said. “Thank you, Mackenzie, for coming back.”

Holmes is as adept a two-handed shooter close to the basket with moves left and right as anyone in the game. During the 2023-24 season that opens Thursday at home against Eastern Illinois at 7 p.m., she will get to play a game Nov. 30 at the University of Maine.

Moren said Holmes’ relations are “All over the moon” because of the game, and Holmes is “super excited.” Likely, busloads of Holmes-IU fans will travel from her Gorham, Maine, hometown.

Garzon, who played guard at 6-5 but can do everything from rebound to shooting from long-range, built strength over the summer. She has been under mental stress lately because of family in Israel during the war with Hamas. But Moren said coaches and Garzon have been in steady contact with those relations in the Middle East and she is coping well.

Before the war began, Garzon said she is very optimistic about IU this season and translating what she picked up playing American basketball as a freshman last year.

“The vibes were a little bit different,” she said. “I had to get used to it. I think I have to be aggressive. I worked a lot during the summer. I think everyone here wants to accomplish a championship. I have a great feeling.”

While IU is thinking of being No. 1, preseason prognosticators have ranked the Hoosiers No. 7 or No. 9. Moren shrugged diplomatically, saying, “It’s great to be in the conversation of being ranked.”

The question of No. 1 or No. 9, or not at all, is all about wins piling up.

“That’s exactly right,” Moren said.

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