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BLOOMINGTON — Grace Berger left IU’s game against Auburn earlier in the first quarter due to injury. It was during the first of IU’s two games in Las Vegas. How IU reacted would say.
It was a significant loss. Berger is one of the stars of IU. She’s been a big part of IU’s recent success. Last season, she averaged a team-high 16.2 points per game.
How exactly did IU react?
Win, win, win.
‘Many different weapons’:IU women show versatility, dominance over UNC
It beat Auburn by double digits. Then it hit Memphis by double digits and swept the trip to Las Vegas. On Thursday, IU faced a big matchup with No. 6 North Carolina at Assembly Hall. The Hoosiers, again without Berger, blasted the doors of the Tar Heels, 87-63. The game was rarely even questioned.
This has become the IU program. What happened on Thursday is kind of the expectation. Sydney Parrish, who is in her first season with the program, was asked what IU said about her win over UNC.
“I mean we just came out and played hard. It’s not really a statement for us. We should play like this every night,” Parrish said.
How good is this IU team? Really good. Earlier this season, while Berger was still healthy, it beat Tennessee on the road. The Hoosiers continued to play without Berger, who, according to IU coach Teri Moren, is out “indefinitely” with a knee injury.
IE is 8-0. There’s still a long way to go, but it doesn’t seem far-fetched to say that this team has the potential to win a national title.
Speaking at IU’s media day, Moren said they are trying not to play the comparison game with last season’s team. But what was evident earlier this season is that this team could be better.
What’s striking so early in the season is the speed with which IU has built chemistry. A concern earlier this season was how IU would fill the production of Aleksa Gulbe, Ali Patberg and Nicole Cardaño-Hillary, who helped lead IU to an Elite Eight in 2021 and Sweet 16 in 2022.
Parrish, a transfer from Oregon, and Sara Scalia, a transfer from Minnesota, have blended in seamlessly. Parrish started the season off the bench but slipped into the starting XI following Berger’s injury. On Thursday, she had 24 points, including 4-of-7 on 3s and six boards. Scalia was a human flamethrower from deep on Thursday, shooting 4 of 7 from behind the arc.
“This is a veteran group,” Moren said. “…I mean you have Syd who has played in big games, obviously Chloe (Moore-McNeil), Mack(enzie) Holmes who has played in big games. Sara Scalia has played in big games. When you play in the Big (Ten), you play in big games. These are women who are one: mature, but two: they’re no stranger to, you know, playing in a big environment, a big game.
And what an impact newcomer Yarden Garzon has made. She’s a unicorn, today’s versatile player. She is listed at 6-3. On Thursday she had nine points, seven boards and seven assists. Additionally, she’s shooting 54.1% of 3’s this season.
“Yarden, even though she’s a freshman from class to class, she doesn’t play like a freshman, she doesn’t act like a freshman,” Moren said.
Moore-McNeil, who had 10 points, seven rebounds and nine assists on Thursday, has shown admirable growth. Holmes plays at an all-American level. She averages 20.6 points and 7.1 rebounds per game while shooting a staggering 73.4% from the field.
“She’s a very special talent because she has exceptional footwork, exceptional hands, soft hands,” Moren said of Holmes. “And she’s a worker. I mean, she just works every day. She wants to be the best in her position.”
At the start of the season, IU demonstrated both the tangible and intangible qualities of what makes teams great. How a team responds to adversity is usually telling. IU has handled it bravely so far. The mix of internal improvement and external additions was impressive.
Above all, Thursday felt like a program win. With one of their best players, the Hoosiers have still rolled over a high-ranked opponent. This feels like a group working for the greater good.
“There are sacrifices that need to be made every day because you’re all going to have different roles,” Moren said before the UNC game. “Whether you start, whether you come off the bench, whether you play five minutes, whether you play 25 minutes. Everyone has to make sacrifices.”