SAN ANTONIO, Texas — The ball was rolling across the floor. Indiana and Arizona were in a mad scramble trying to obtain it. A small tap by Arizona kept the ball rolling down the floor, and it ended up in Bendu Yeaney's hand for an easy layup to put Arizona up nine with one minute to play.
It was essentially the dagger to Indiana's season, and the final stab coming from a loose ball encapsulated the game for the Hoosiers. The ball just didn't bounce Indiana's way.
Loose balls, rebounding and Arizona's star guard Aari McDonald put an end to the Hoosiers' historic season as the Wildcats advanced to their first Final Four in program history, defeating Indiana 66-53.
"Unfortunately we were pretty flat," Indiana head coach Teri Moren said. "Our inability to rebound tonight. I thought they were tougher around the rim than we were. I thought they wanted the ball more, and that hasn't been us. We displayed a lot of toughness so far. All the things we talked about, we came up a little bit short in tonight."
The final score didn't reflect the battle. It was a hard-fought game from the opening tip, and both teams brought a defensive prowess that has been the backbone of each program all season.
It wasn't until three minutes into the game before the first basket was scored.
Arizona was trapping Indiana's guard hard off of screens, and the Hoosiers struggled to deal with it in the first quarter. Arizona took a 14-11 lead after one.
"We knew they were going to trap," Moren said. "What we didn't do a very good job of, especially in the first quarter, was getting to the spots where we could help our guy in the trap."
In the second quarter, Indiana did a much better job getting the ball inside to Mackenzie Holmes. Ali Patberg made some nice passes to Holmes, who finished the first half with 10 points.
But McDonald continued to shred the Hoosiers on ball screens, weaving her way through the paint to get exactly where she wanted to go. She had a game-high 17 points at the half as Arizona led 27-23.
The Wildcats pushed their lead up to eight points early in the third quarter, which led to a timeout from Moren. Momentum was starting to turn against Indiana, but then the Hoosiers got physical and chipped away at the lead.
More post touches to Holmes and some aggressive drives from Patberg and Berger allowed Indiana to tie the game. Arizona missed a shot toward the end of the quarter, and Nicole Cardaño-Hillary grabbed the rebound, but before she could even turn, McDonald came and ripped it away to score an easy layup.
Arizona took a 48-46 lead into the fourth quarter, and that play really took the momentum, figuratively and literally, away from the Hoosiers.
"Just the toughness to really get those rebounds and be strong with the ball," Moren said.
Indiana went cold in the fourth quarter, and Arizona knocked in a couple of three-pointers that made all the difference. The Hoosiers were down five with five minutes to go, but that was as close as Indiana would get for the rest of the game.
Arizona shot 9-of-21 from behind the arc and Indiana shot 0-of-9.
"I was happy with the looks, I wasn't happy that we didn't hit any of them," Moren said.
McDonald finished the game with 33 points, shooting 5-of-6 from three. Indiana's big three — Holmes, Patberg and Berger — scored 47 of Indiana's 53 points. Holmes had 20, Berger had 15 and Patberg had 12.
It was a disappointed locker room for Indiana after the game. Moren usually has a 24-hour rule for her team to get over a win or a loss, but with no more games to look forward to, this one might sting a little more.
This Indiana team was one that has been so competitive all season long. They're hurting right now, but Moren wants them to remember just how special this season was.
Indiana set a program record for Big Ten wins in a season with 16. They achieved their highest seeding in an NCAA Tournament as a No. 4. They advanced to the Sweet Sixteen for the first time in program history. They advanced to the Elite Eight for the first time in program history. Not to mention the Hoosiers did it through a pandemic, where they had zero positive COVID-19 test results.
"I can't overstate it enough how proud I am of this group," Moren said. "What they've been through and what they've fought through, and what we've been able to accomplish."
After all, for a group that has been fueled by its wrongdoings all season long, this loss will leave a burning desire for Indiana to achieve more next season.
"It gives you motivation for wanting to be back here next year," Moren said. "I'm hopeful that'll be what this does to us."
- SENIORS SHARE SPECIAL BOND: Indiana seniors Ali Patberg and Keyanna Warthen have a special relationship that started three years ago. CLICK HERE
- PATTERSON OPTS OUT OF SEASON: Indiana's Danielle Patterson has opted out for the remainder of the year. CLICK HERE
- BERGER ADDED TO WATCH LIST: Grace Berger joins Ali Patberg on the Wade Trophy Watch List, getting added as a midseason addition. CLICK HERE
- PENN OPTS OUT OF SEASON: Indiana senior guard Jaelynn Penn has opted out for the remainder of the year. CLICK HERE
- CARDANO-HILLARY PROVIDING SPARK: Transfer Nicole Cardaño-Hillary has been a huge lift for IUWBB off the bench this season. CLICK HERE