WNIT wrap: Indiana 72, Marquette 69

WHAT HAPPENED: Indiana held off a late Marquette rally to secure a trip to the WNIT Sweet Sixteen in Saturday’s 72-69 victory before an announced 2,469 at Assembly Hall. Larryn Brooks scored 33 points, leading an Indiana offense that looked nothing like the feeble outfit that struggled through most of Thursday’s first-round contest against Belmont. Alexis Gassion added 11 points, including two big free throws in the final few seconds to clinch the victory, while Simone Deloach posted 10 points and seven rebounds against the Golden Eagles’ tough and talented front line of Katherin Plouffe and Apiew Ojulu.

The Hoosiers, who led by as many as 22 points Saturday, shot 50 percent for the night but were nearly toppled in the final eight minutes. That’s when Marquette cut a 14-point deficit into a two-possession game in a little more than three minutes. The Golden Eagles used perimeter shots to cut it to a three-point game on three occasions before Taylor Agler’s turnover under her own basket allowed Katie Young to bring Marquette within one on a coast-to-coast layup. The gaffe was compounded moments later when Agler couldn’t handle the inbounds pass, sending it out of bounds and giving the visitors one more chance under their basket. But Brooklyn Pumroy missed a contest shot within five feet and Gassion grabbed the rebound and took a foul with four seconds left. Gassion hit both ends of a one-and-one to give the Hoosiers a 72-69 lead and seal a victory that gives Indiana 20 wins for only the sixth time in program history.

WHO MADE IT HAPPEN: Larryn Brooks, who scored 22 of her game-high 33 points, through the first 20 minutes, set the tone for Indiana’s finest offensive performance in weeks. The Hoosiers shot 57 percent through the first half and Brooks was a big reason why. She took advantage of Marquette’s plan to stop her, which wasn’t much. The Golden Eagles allowed her handfuls of open looks from the perimeter and, for much of the night, weren’t able to slow Brooks’ attacking through the lane.

“Big credit to her that she was aggressive and hung in there for her shot,” IU coach Curt Miller said. “I thought she was tentative against Belmont. I told her that she could have a Virginia Tech-type night against Belmont and I didn’t see the swagger. But I saw it today in shootaround. We were really making shots in the shootaround. When we got her off to that start, I looked down at the stat sheet and said, ‘Oh my gosh, she has 16 points (early in the first half).’ She put us on her back and we thought we could get penetration, but I thought she’d have to have a big assist night. But she was getting such good penetration. She hasn’t gotten to the rim against some Big Ten teams like that, so it was really good to see.”

KEY STAT: Indiana was only out-rebounded 33-30 by a Marquette team that entered play ranked No. 2 in the nation in rebounding margin (plus-13.3). The Hoosiers also limited Katherine Plouffe to only four points on one field goal and kept her to only four rebounds. It was the same story for fellow 6-foot-3 post Apiew Ojulu, who finished with two points and four rebounds.

“We competed on the boards well enough to win,” Miller said.

QUOTE OF THE NIGHT: “It’s still a dance,”
— Simone Deloach. A reporter noted that, of course, Indiana would like to be in the Big Dance right now, but Deloach clarified that the Hoosiers are simply happy to be playing deep into March.

WHAT DOES IT MEAN: The most important takeaway for this young Indiana team is that the newcomers — and everyone, really — are learning how to win postseason games and how to prepare for tournament contests on a quick turnaround. Saturday’s game provided only one day of prep work.

These are key lessons that Miller hopes will come in handy next year and many years down the road. But the coach also wants his group to enjoy these nights and little moments of victory because they aren’t guaranteed.

“I tell them, ‘Don’t take it for granted,'” Miller said. “I try not to talk about next year too much. They know Maryland is coming. They know Rutgers is coming. They know what next year is going to be like. The postseason is hard. Postseason wins are even harder. I’m trying to tell them to live in the moment and really enjoy this. They’re having fun and they just want to play games right now. The only thing I want to chance is that we’ve got to (want to) practice. But they want to play games. I’m hoping we’re rewarded with another home game.”