In 49 states, it’s just miniature dogs scurrying maniacally through a gym. At the Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall in Indiana, a halftime battle ensues between the best trained and most athletic corgis Bloomington has to offer.
Eugene, the corgi media darling who stole first place in the prelims while stealing the hearts of thousands of Hoosier fans, looked like a shoo-in for the crown or the bone — I’m not quite sure sure what the price was. But when the three pooches were released in the grand finals, it was Leo, the feisty and eager underdog, who shocked the arena after claiming a win in the opening contest.
Indiana women’s basketball No. 6 unleashed its inner lion in Thursday night’s main event, a match with Maryland No. 9. The Hoosiers celebrated their second top ten win of the season after defeating the Terrapins 68-61.
While her 11 points didn’t jump off the side, freshman guard Yarden Garzon showed she has a clutch gene. Her 3-pointer late in the fourth quarter to beat the buzzer and extend the lead to eight was a hallmark of the first-year phenomenon.
“She’s as cool as it gets in those moments despite being a freshman,” head coach Teri Moren said of Garzon after the game. “It’s never too high, it’s never too low. She was pretty sick in our last game (against Northwestern) and you wouldn’t have noticed. She will continue to thrive in this program.”
The crowd, seething in anticipation of a dagger, completely exploded. While the gritty, dirty wins are standard for Moren, the increasing emphasis on pace and fast ball movement has catapulted a respectable Indiana team into the upper league of college hoops.
Before an overtime win last January, Indiana couldn’t match Maryland. In fact, the Hoosiers were down 11-0 to them prior to this game. Thursday night, which of course signaled a great home win, could also have been the start of a pendulum movement in the Big Ten.
As I’ve pointed out throughout the season, Moren’s group is very different from the teams she’s had in previous years. The faster playstyle on offense was certainly an advantage, but it was defense, a Moren staple, that continues to shine.
The willingness to get involved on that end — to fill fast lanes and box with a goal — has perhaps never been more apparent all season than against Maryland. Junior guards Chloe Moore-McNeil and Sydney Parrish are representative of a new Moren guard: a blend of offensive firepower and brave defensive play.
Parrish led by 18 points on 3-7 shooting from beyond the arc and received a well-deserved ovation after a foul. Both guards, I might add, had to stop the game in the second half due to hard collisions.
With the crowd’s energy building the Hoosiers after every bucket or defensive stop, it was the duo of graduate guard Grace Berger and senior forward Mackenzie Holmes that iced things up forever. In her first home game back after being sidelined with a knee injury, Berger trotted to the fans, who were perhaps as excited to see them as she was to see them.
“One of[Maryland’s]players said, ‘Damn, your fans are real. You actually know what’s going on.’ I thought, yeah, I know,” Holmes said. “The (fans) keep feeding us energy throughout the game. It makes it really difficult to be an opposing team.”
Their patented midrange jumper put the exclamation mark on Indiana’s 7-0 run late in the fourth quarter. Berger’s contributions went well beyond the scorer’s chart. Her cool presence and firm grip on the ball, complemented by a subconscious connection to Holmes, was a new X-Factor for the Hoosiers.
With 19 turnovers and a 57% night off the line, Indiana defeated a top 10 team. It is also clear that they have a lot of fun on the pitch.
“It’s just the nature of our team. We like to play ball and we like to win,” said Holmes.
With the states of Illinois, Michigan and Ohio on the horizon, Indiana still has a lot to do. But one thing is clear, and at the risk of risking an extremely corny joke, it’s true: the Hoosiers have that dog in them, or that Leo the Corgi in them.