SAN ANTONIO (AP) — Indiana had barely earned its biggest win in NCAA Tournament history when coach Teri Moren emerged from her locker room soaked from head to toe.
There could still be a lot of basketball ahead for the Hoosiers, but Moren saw no reason to stop the party after Indiana secured its first Sweet 16 appearance with Wednesday’s 70-48 win over Belmont.
“Those kids were pretty excited, got me pretty good in the locker room,” Moren said. “That’s OK. Wet pants, wet shirt, wet hair … Just to watch the pure joy these kids have right now is well worth it.”
Grace Berger scored 17 points and fourth-seeded Indiana delivered another suffocating defensive effort after holding first-round opponent VCU to just 32 points.
Indiana (20-5) was just as efficient on offense as four Hoosiers scored in double figures. Indiana advances to play North Carolina State, the No. 1 seed in the Mercado Region.
“Any time you’re the first in your program to do something, you’re excited,” Berger said.
Indiana is also the fourth Big 10 team to make the Sweet 16. Belmont was the first Ohio Valley Conference team to win a tournament game since 1990, but its hopes of becoming the fifth No. 12 seed to advance to the regional semifinals faded quickly.
Destinee Wells scored 16 points to lead Belmont (21-6), but her drives found few cracks in the Indiana defense and her Bruins teammates misfired from nearly everywhere on 3-pointers over the first three quarters.
“That’s what they hang their hat on,” Belmont coach Bart Brooks said. “We’re not the only ones who struggle to score against those guys. They’re really good.”
Indiana applied its clampdown almost immediately.
After taking a 15-12 lead into the second quarter, the Hoosiers allowed just six more points until halftime, stretching the perimeter on Belmont shooters Wells and Tuti Jones. Wells scored eight points in the first half but Belmont went scoreless over the final 4:27, missed all 13 attempts from long range and made 2 of 17 shots in the quarter.
That gave Indiana the breathing room it needed to methodically push ahead. A 10-2 run to halftime, keyed by consecutive baskets from Patberg, stretched the Hoosiers’ lead to 30-18 by halftime.
Belmont finally hit from long range in third quarter when Jones struck twice, including in the early seconds. But Indiana kept choking off Wells’ attempts to drive to the basket and Mackenzie Holmes blocked her first shots of the quarter.
The Hoosiers then launched a 10-3 run behind six points from Nicole Cardano-Hillary that had the Hoosiers ahead by 15. Grace Berger’s jumper sent Indiana into the fourth quarter ahead 51-33.
Belmont had three players foul out and got to the free-throw line just five times. Indiana made 19 of 25 free throws. Indiana held Belmont to 32% shooting and allowed no fast break points.
ANOTHER KIND OF TITLE
Moren noted her team has made it through the season and the opening two rounds of the tournament without a single case of COVID-19. Teams are undergoing constant testing in San Antonio.
“I told them we deserve a national championship (for that),” Moren said. “It’s because of the sacrifices and discipline we’ve had to get to this moment. … That says a lot about how important, and how special, this season was going to be for this group.”