Indiana took the floor at Bankers Life Fieldhouse wearing “Made in March” warm-ups.
Whether their March continues will now be up to the NCAA tournament selection committee, as the Hoosiers exit the Big Ten Tournament in the quarterfinals with a 79-73 loss to Northwestern.
They fell prey to another team fighting to extend its March, as the 12-seed Wildcats continued their run through the conference tournament, punching their ticket to the semifinals against Maryland tomorrow.
The Hoosiers (20-11, 12-6) gave the Cats (18-15, 4-14) all they could handle, as the teams traded the lead eight times and shared it nine times. They struggled to contain Northwestern’s Nia Coffey and Christen Inman, however, who helped the Cats pull away down the stretch with a combined 23 second-half points.
“We know that we could have played much better than we did today, and we’ve seen our group do that,” head coach Teri Moren said. “You don’t win 20 games in one of the best conferences in the country, get a high seed like we did, top four, without playing some really good basketball.”
Coffey led all scorers with 26 points, adding 11 rebounds and four blocks and frustrated the Hoosiers defensively as she shouldered Northwestern to its third win in as many days.
“We didn’t have an answer for Nia Coffey,” sophomore guard Tyra Buss said. “She kind of just could take any shot she wanted.”
The Hoosiers looked to regain the momentum for a split-second on a SportsCenter-like play by Amanda Cahill with .5 seconds remaining in the third quarter. The sophomore forward managed to get up a shot in .2 seconds off the inbounds while getting fouled.
She made it without looking, tossing the ball behind her back to pull the Hoosiers within one possession to start the final period. The Cats responded by hitting 7-of-9 shots to start the fourth quarter.
Cahill again brought Indiana to within four, hitting a trey with 33.6 seconds remaining. But it wasn’t enough time to erase the deficit, as the clock expired to end Indiana’s run at a Big Ten Championship.
“We needed something like that to change the rhythm, to change our enthusiasm and our energy level, and I thought maybe that play with Cahill, which was huge, would help us,” Moren said. “We’ve been really good in the fourth quarter.”
Cahill posted her 11th double-double of the season with a team-high 23 points and 13 rebounds, moving her into eighth on the program’s all-time list for single season rebounds with 268.
She was followed by Buss, who scored in double figures for her 35th consecutive game with 16 points and connected on 8-of-9 from the free-throw line to set an Indiana school record for single season free-throws at 195.
In a scary moment in the first half, Indiana looked as though it might be without its leading scorer as Buss hit the floor hard and lay writhing in pain for several minutes.
Less than 40 seconds after taking the bench, however, she was back in the game.
“I knew she was going to play,” Moren said. “She’s extremely tough, and it was just a matter of time before she shook the thing off and got back in. There was nothing that was going to keep that kid from playing in this game.”
Despite their performance in the conference tournament, the Hoosiers are confident in their NCAA Tournament resume as they will await the tournament selection show on March 14.
The decision of whether the Hoosiers’ March will continue is out of their hands.
But this group knows what it has accomplished. One loss in the Big Ten Tournament doesn’t change that.
“Today we didn’t play our best game,” Cahill said.
“But we think that throughout the season we’ve proved that we deserve to be in that spot, in the top 64 teams in the country.”