Indiana women begin March Madness on redemption tour after losing in 2nd round as top seed last year

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Indiana guard Sydney Parrish spent a year reflecting on last season's shocking finale.

Now, she wants her teammates contemplating that emotional scene from last March, when the top-seeded Hoosiers fell to No. 9 seed Miami on their home floor in the second round of the women's NCAA Tournament.

The Hoosiers were 27-3 heading into last year's tournament, a historic season that earned the program its first-ever No. 1 seed. Over the past two weeks, Parrish has encouraged Hoosiers players to remember how they felt when that season ended — and how to avoid a repeat when fourth-seeded Indiana's new quest begins Saturday against 13th-seeded Fairfield.

“We would have traded anything really to get that Miami loss back,” Parrish said. “We've talked about how we lost early in the Big Ten Tournament and how if we can just get healthy, that will help us make a run in the (NCAA) tournament. I think that's what's really motivating us to get back on the court healthy. It's another season for us."

This is more than just a redemption tour for a team that last year won last year's outright Big Ten regular-season crown, the first in school history.

Strangely, though, this March Madness already bears some similarities to 2023.

Two mid-major champions and a dangerous Power Five team are coming to Bloomington as Indiana (24-5) hosts first- and second-round games for the third straight year.

The Hoosiers' first opponent, Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference champ Fairfield (31-1), has won 29 straight since losing 73-70 at Vanderbilt on Nov. 12.

Atlantic Sun champ Florida Gulf Coast (29-4) has lost to three schools that made the 68-team field — Southern California, Iowa and Duke — and hasn't lost since Dec. 12. The 12th-seeded Eagles will face No. 5 seed Oklahoma (22-9), which has won four of its last six and 13 of 16.

Indiana's injuries are a concern again, too.

Parrish missed six games after hurting her foot in a mid-January practice, a similar scenario to Grace Berger's midseason absence last year. Then, in Indiana's final regular-season game, All-America center Mackenzie Holmes re-injured the left knee that she hurt before last year's NCAA Tournament.

Holmes logged only five minutes in the Big Ten tourney quarterfinal loss to Michigan.

But Parrish said a two-week break between games helped her recover, and Holmes told reporters after Sunday's tourney draw that she feels better.

“I've been able to get back out on the floor, I've been practicing and each day I'm feeling more and more confident,” Holmes said. “(Last March), I think I practiced maybe once or twice leading up to the Miami game. I'm in practices now, doing pretty much everything. So I'm feeling a lot better this March than last March.”

That's good news for the Hoosiers, who expect Holmes to play Saturday, unlike last year. Coach Teri Moren hasn't ruled out a minutes restriction for Holmes, the Hoosiers' top scorer (20.0 points) and rebounder (6.9).

If Holmes is limited, second-year forward Lilly Meister looks like a more capable second option.

“The week off has helped her (Holmes) physically and mentally," Moren said. “A year ago, we went into the (off) week not knowing if Mac was going to play and we sat her out that first game. I don't think that will be the case this year. Right now, we're planning on Mac playing the first game and hopefully playing in that second game.”

Holmes' stats only tell half the tale. Her dominant post presence also helps free up Indiana's prolific 3-point shooters.

With Parrish, Sara Scalia, Yarden Garzon and Chloe Moore-McNeil leading the way, the Hoosiers begin the tourney as nation's top 3-point shooting team (40.2%).

The offensive combination, paired with the Big Ten's third-stingiest scoring defense at 64.0 points, helped last year's Big Ten regular-season champs finish in a second-place tie with Caitlin Clark and No. 2 Iowa, just behind No. 7 Ohio State.

And if Holmes is anywhere near full strength, that could be the difference Indiana needs.

“She (Holmes) really helps us get our open looks because she attracts so much attention,” Parrish said, before explaining what happened in the loss to Michigan. “I think coming into the second half, we had that lead and I think it really happened on the defensive end. We couldn't keep people in front of us, we had a lot of turnovers that led to fast-break layups and they just kind of got away from us.”

Moren equated the Hoosiers' poor second-half start against the Wolverines to the slow start Indiana had to dig itself out of against Miami, and she knows if it happens again either Saturday or Monday, the Hoosiers could suffer the same fate as last season.

Parrish also understands that reaching the Sweet 16 won't just happen because the Hoosiers have a perfect home record this season. They'll need to excel for every minute they're on the floor. And she's made sure her teammates have gotten the message.

“We've had some team meetings and, of course, I've talked with her one-on-one about the expectations for this team and not wanting to repeat last year,” Moore-McNeil said. “We want to make a deeper run this year than we did last year, and I think getting everybody back healthy will have a lot to do with that.”

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AP March Madness bracket: https://apnews.com/hub/ncaa-womens-bracket/ and coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/march-madness