BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (AP) — Coach Teri Moren spent nine seasons patiently constructing her program at Indiana.
She worked hard to convince prep stars and transfers to take a chance on the Hoosiers, placed a premium on developing bonds and skills and carefully pieced it all together.
Now, Indiana finds itself in elite company.
Under Moren, the Hoosiers have made six straight postseason trips, earned the school's first NCAA Tournament home games, reached back-to-back Sweet 16s and are currently ranked No. 5, despite losing the most successful senior class in school history and embarking on uncharted territory.
“It’s definitely different from what I’ve experienced,” fifth-year guard Grace Berger said, referring to this season. “The past couple of years, we kind of knew what to expect, we kind of knew what our ceiling was, what we were going to get. This year, we have a lot of really exciting pieces, and we aren’t exactly sure how we’re going to play, what our playing style is going to be.”
Indiana won each of its first seven games by double digits, including a 12-point victory at perennial power Tennessee and two wins in last weekend's overpromised, underdelivered Las Vegas environment that drew scorn from the women's basketball community.
On Thursday, unbeaten Indiana faces another daunting test against No. 6 North Carolina (6-0), this time without Berger, who suffered a right knee injury Friday against Auburn.
“What we know is she did suffer a knee injury, she is out indefinitely, and that’s where we are right now,” Moren said on her weekly radio show. “Time will tell. She’s day to day, and obviously she’s not going to play on Thursday.”
But Moren never leaves the Hoosiers unprepared for contingencies.
Indiana hasn't missed a step despite losing three longtime cogs — Ali Patberg, Aleksa Gulbe and Nicole Cardano-Hillary — to graduation. And the Hoosiers are about to find out if they can replace Berger, the gritty, three-time all-Big Ten selection who returned this year for another shot at hanging Indiana's first Big Ten regular-season championship banner in four decades.
Five players, including Berger, are averaging at least 10 points. The group is led by 6-foot-3 forward Mackenzie Holmes (20.0), a two-time all-conference selection coming off an injury-plagued 2021-22.
Guard Sara Scalia, a transfer from Minnesota, and freshman Yarden Garzon have given the Hoosiers strong 3-point options and 6-2 guard Sydney Parrish seems poised to take Berger's spot in the lineup. Parrish, the 2020 Indiana Miss Basketball Award winner and a transfer from Oregon, is averaging 10.1 points off the bench.
“I think one thing that we have seen with the transfers is that it gives you immediate experience, college experience, which is always good, especially when you’re trying to sustain the level of success that we’ve had,” Moren said.
The newcomers came largely because of Moren's legacy.
When Moren arrived in 2014-15, she inherited a program that had endured five straight losing seasons in Big Ten play and hadn't been to the NCAA tourney since 2002.
But with Tyra Buss and Amanda Cahill leading the way, the Hoosiers rebounded from a 15-16 mark in Moren's first season to produce seven straight 20-win seasons while making the 2016 NCAA Tourney field.
It laid the groundwork for what was to follow.
Moren won the WNIT title in 2017-18 and after losing two of Indiana's four highest career scorers, Buss and Cahill, Berger and Patberg proved to be more than capable replacements.
Both are still around for the next transition. While Berger will do her work, for now, from the bench, Patberg was hired as the Hoosiers recruitment and management coordinator.
The former Notre Dame recruit and 2015 Indiana Miss Basketball Award winner has plenty to offer someone like Parrish, who has followed a similar career path and saw a new opportunity with these Hoosiers.
“As soon as IU contacted me, it kind of opened my head a little bit and just I realized, ‘OK, I can go back home and play. I can be close to family. I can be on a winning program,’” Patberg said. “This team is really good, everyone knows that. They’re nationally known now. That was big for me.”
How much higher can the Hoosiers ascend?
Moren needs 10 wins to surpass the late Jim Izard (188) as the Hoosiers career leader and 22 to earn victory No. 400. She's strengthened the schedule, added depth to the roster and raised the bar for expectations. This week's ESPN bracketologist even projected the Hoosiers as a No. 1 seed.
But nobody wants to put a ceiling on what this team could do now — or long term — as Moren's vision continues taking shape.
“We have some really elite level players, some things that we haven’t had in the past — really good shooting, we’ve added some length,” Berger said. “We’ve added some really good freshmen, but we’ve also added some really experienced players. It’s hard not be excited about the pieces we have.”
AP women’s college basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/womens-college-basketball and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-womens-college-basketball-poll.