WNIT wrap: South Dakota State 76, Indiana 64

WHAT HAPPENED: Indiana and South Dakota State went blow-for-blow, but it was the Jackrabbits’ ability to get to the free throw line that helped send SDSU to the WNIT Final Four with a 76-64 win before an announced 3,792 at Frost Arena. The statistical categories were virtually even in nearly even category, save one. South Dakota State, one of the premier mid-major teams in the nation, shot 20-for-22 at the free throw line. Indiana wasn’t as successful initiating contact, while going only 8-of-14 at the line. The Hoosiers’ season ends a victory shy of setting a new program record for wins in a season.

WHO MADE IT HAPPEN: For Indiana, it was Alexis Gassion. Sunday was yet another testament to the freshman’s development. She tied her career high with 22 points, while shooting 8-of-13 from the field and hitting a trio of 3-pointers. Since the end of January, Gassion is averaging over 12 points per game.

“She’s really come on offensively,” IU coach Curt Miller said. “She’s had a great second half of the year. She’s got more and more confidence. It’s really exciting how young we are.”

For South Dakota State, Megan Waytashek was outstanding. She scored a team-high 20 points and went 7-for-7 at the line to build on her 90 percent season average. But she wasn’t the only one. Steph Paluch showed her versatility, finishing with 19 points and — like Waytashek — hit three 3-pointers. Mariah Clarin set the tone early and outmuscled Indiana’s posts all afternoon, finishing with 15 points and a game-high seven rebounds.

“When you go into playing South Dakota State, they have so many weapons and you gotta pick your poison on who you’re gonna try to stop. (Hannah) Stop, who is probably the person who you pick to have the open shot if it helps you contain everyone else, she had two huge 3s against us. Again, that’s what’s so special about South Dakota State right now. There are kids on the team that if (coach Aaron Johnston) wanted to run plays for someone every time down the floor, they could score 20. But he’s got six or seven kids that can average between six and 14 points every night. So, it’s really hard to take away everything and I think that’s really special.”

KEY STAT: South Dakota State’s 90 percent (20-for-22) showing at the free throw line. Here’s a look at just how comparable the rest of the categories were:
Field goal percentage: IU 44 percent, SDSU 46 percent
3-pointers IU 8-for-18, SDSU 10-for-22
Rebounds: IU 30, SDSU 32
Assists: IU 15, SDSU 16
Turnovers: IU 14, SDSU 12
Steals: IU 7, SDSU 6
Points in paint: IU 28, SDSU 24
Off turnovers: IU 15, SDSU 14
2nd chance: IU 9, SDSU 7

The only other category that SDSU clearly won was blocks. The Jacks had nine.

QUOTE OF THE NIGHT:
“We inherited a program two years ago that won six games. Last year we won 11 games and our top three players and top three scorers were all seniors that we inherited. We started this year with absolutely not one person who believed we could be anything but last place in the Big Ten. And we were one of two Big Ten teams playing today in either tournament. For us to break so many school records and try to establish some tradition for a program that doesn’t have great tradition — most non-conference wins, the highest ranking in school history, most wins — Aaron would probably chuckle. My background at Bowling Green, 21 wins doesn’t seem like a tremendous amount. That’s school record at Indiana. We’re really proud of how far we’ve come. I’m sad we had to end it this way, but I’m telling you this game in the long run is gonna help us.”
— IU coach Curt Miller on the excitement of building a young program.

WHAT DOES IT MEAN: This was the type of day when you tip your hat and you go home.

Indiana hung around with a much more talented program — top to bottom — and came within a few shots of possibly seeing a different result. But at this point, the Hoosiers had nothing to lose, anyway. Sure, it was a tough way to go out. This program was not only winning at a record pace, they were having fun, too. But Indiana, like SDSU, played very good basketball Sunday. It just wasn’t able to win.

And right now, that’s OK.

The most important thing to come out of this season are not the records but the realizations. The Hoosiers have discovered legitimate Big Ten players in Larryn Brooks, Taylor Agler and Alexis Gassion. They’re the foundation. IU will build on that with another talented class featuring Tyra Buss, Maura Muensterman, Jess Walter and Amanda Cahill, who will all be on campus in Bloomington in only a few months. Everything that Curt Miller envisioned when he took the Indiana job two years ago is coming true.

It wouldn’t be possible without this senior class.

They produced on the court, yes. More importantly, they bought in off the floor. They were leaders in the locker room and embraced the change in culture back in 2012. They stepped up and helped the coaching staff in recruiting by talking to visiting recruits. Imagine: players Curt Miller didn’t recruit — and probably wouldn’t have had he had the chance — were going out of their way to praise the man. And he did the same for them. But they clearly earned the praises of their coach. Right now, it’s tough for them to say goodbye.

But with goodbyes come new beginnings. For one, Miller absolutely must replace some of the size he loses with this class. He knows it, too. Next season’s roster makeup could be problematic without a true veteran post on the roster. Jenn Anderson figures to see more minutes, for one. Maybe Indiana pursues another graduate transfer like Tabitha Gerardot. We’ll see.

So, on that note, let’s examine a few questions for next year’s team. We can discuss in the comment section below:
— Does the 2014 recruiting class live up to the hype?

— How does Indiana replace the loss of size in a conference that requires it?

— Where does leading scorer Larryn Brooks go from here?

— Can the Hoosiers return to a postseason tournament with another young roster?

— Does fan support continue on an upward trend in a new season?

3 comments

  1. Mike, to answer your questions; 1. The hype for next year’s class can’t possibly be realized because I fear that some fans will expect Tyra Buss to score like she did in high school and that is simply not going to happen!
    2. To replace the height we lose this year means that coach Miller and his staff will have to sign a big during the spring signing period that comes about in a couple of weeks.
    3. Brooks could possibly be an even more effective scorer next year due to having a great shooter like the incoming Buss in the line up? Buss is a great shooter from all areas of the floor which may divert attention from Brooks which will be to her advantage.
    4. This question coincides with question number 2. If we can replace the height we lose this year, yes, we can return to post season play next year. If we can’t replace the size in the post, it will be very difficult to return to post season play!
    5. Our attendance will continue to escalate through next season. IU fans learned this year that there is another basketball team in Bloomington. Crowds got bigger as the season wore on and the team continued to compete at a high level. If we can get the students to take more interest in women’s basketball, the attendance will really take off. I was very disappointed in the lack of students attending the games especially when you consider students get in free by showing their student ID’s? Trust me, attendance will go up next year!
    I hope to see other people participating in answering your questions. Thanks Mike.

  2. What really hurt IU versus SD St. is missed lay ups. It is a simple thing and they hit some of their early layups, it is a far different game at the end.

  3. I enjoy your comments but sad to see you underestimate Leikem and Anderson.Leikem was every bit as good as Geradot this year and has a bigger upside. Anderson was very good when she was in there she was just stuck behind all those seniors.

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