Lilly Meister sat on the sidelines proper earlier than introductions started Saturday morning in Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall, as she’s performed so many occasions earlier than this season. But this time, it was totally different.
Instead of standing and lining as much as cheer on Indiana’s 5 starters, Meister stayed seated. Instead of preserving her warmups on, Meister took her high layer off to place her jersey on full show.
She was getting the primary begin of her profession, and it was approaching the most important stage she’d ever been on.
“It’s a little nerve-wracking, but this is the best atmosphere ever,” Meister mentioned postgame. “But once the tip went off, it was just another game.”
Meister began instead of Mackenzie Holmes, who didn’t seem in Indiana’s sport towards No. 16-seed Tennessee Tech attributable to knee soreness. Teri Moren mentioned Holmes was accessible if want be, however that was by no means the case; the Hoosiers coasted to a 77-47 victory with relative ease, even with out their All-American.
“As great as Mackenzie is, and she’s an amazing player, I think we are a really complete team,” Grace Berger mentioned. “We have really good guard play, we have really good backup post players coming in off the bench.”
Meister and Alyssa Geary cut up minutes, every placing up new season-highs of 20 and 17 minutes, respectively. Meister had among the finest video games in her younger Hoosier profession, scoring seven factors, grabbing 4 rebounds and placing up three blocks — one other career-high.
Geary recorded three factors, three rebounds and put up season-highs in assists and steals with two and one, respectively. She additionally contributed one block to Indiana’s complete of 11.
Defense was the secret for the Hoosiers, because it has been for the entire season. They began out shaky within the first quarter, permitting Tennessee Tech to hit open 3-pointers and keep firmly in rivalry for the lead.
But all due to a one-timeout, Indiana shortly righted the ship and sailed to victory after the primary quarter.
“There was a media timeout where Grace Berger and Chloe (Moore-McNeil) really challenged their teammates to do a much better job in protecting the 3-point line,” Moren mentioned.
Moore-McNeil was apparently “madder than a hornet” within the huddle, pushing her teammates to do a greater job on protection. They did.
After permitting 18 factors within the first quarter, Indiana held Tennessee Tech to 12 factors or much less within the subsequent three quarters. The Golden Eagles, who common 69 factors per sport, solely scored 47 factors on 28 % taking pictures.
Indiana additionally dominated within the paint, even with out Holmes, scoring 44 factors to Tennessee Tech’s 16. The Hoosiers by no means let up.
“No matter what the score looks like, we’re still going to want to play good basketball,” Moren mentioned. ‘We’re going to need to handle the ball, and we’re going to need to get the shot that we need to get. That’s the self-discipline of our program.”
Without Holmes, Indiana was with out one among its most disciplined gamers, and first leaders, on the ground. But with gamers like Moore-McNeil and Berger on the market for many of the sport, the Hoosiers weren’t with out course.
Berger, the epitome of self-discipline, was the driving power behind Indiana’s victory, with 17 factors, six rebounds, 4 assists, three blocks and one steal. As level guard, she handed the ball with blazing pace and located open lanes for herself and her teammates.
“Grace Berger came out with just a different level of urgency today, and we needed her to do that,” Moren mentioned. “We need her to do that the remainder of the tournament. She’s our leader, and as Grace goes, we go.”
So when Berger charged down the court docket on a fastbreak, her teammates adopted her. When she lobbed a cross midway down the ground, somebody was there to catch it. When she bounced a no-look cross within the paint, it discovered its method into the basket.
Berger dictated Indiana’s tempo for a majority of the sport, and more often than not that tempo was quick. 29 of Indiana’s factors got here on the fastbreak, with 20 coming within the second quarter alone.
“It’s obviously who we are, who we want to be,” Moren mentioned. “Pushing the pace and running.”
The Hoosiers confirmed simply who they had been Saturday; a well-rounded, proficient group able to profitable — and enjoying like one of many high groups within the nation — with out their greatest participant.
Because Indiana has a group filled with gamers who deliver their greatest each sport, play with the suitable mindset and know what they should do to win. And that’s what you want in March.
“It’s the NCAA Tournament, so it’s win or go home,” Berger mentioned. “So there’s really no reason for any of us not to have a sense of urgency in every game moving forward. We’re on the biggest stage, that’s where we belong and that’s where we want to be.”
(Photo credit score: IU Athletics)