Heather Cassady and the Hoosiers enter the NCAAs well-rested
Big Ten Champs After winning its first-ever Big Ten Conference Tournament championship, the Indiana women's basketball team (17-13 overall) participates in the NCAA tournament for the first time since the 1994-95 season.
Love And Basketball Indiana's recent success has caught the nation's attention. Head coach Kathi Bennett broke the second vertebra in her neck in a February 8 auto accident. Bennett wears a halo device that stabilizes her neck and still has a good deal of time until it comes off. From the time Bennett was released from the hospital, the Hoosiers have won six consecutive games over some of the Big Ten's stiffest competition.
How They Got Here As champions of the Big Ten tournament, the Hoosiers received the conference's automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament. Indiana entered the conference tournament as the fifth seed, but upset fourth-seeded Iowa, top-seeded Purdue and second-seeded Penn State to claim the crown. The championship marked IU's first Big Ten crown since the 1983 season.
The Nation's Sweethearts The Indiana women's basketball program has been thrust into the national spotlight after its dramatic run through the Big Ten tournament. After claiming the Big Ten title in a game televised nationally by ESPN, the Hoosiers were the subject of a feature story in USA Today and were featured on ESPN's coverage of Selection Sunday with a live reaction to their seeding and placement. In addition, Kathi Bennett was the subject of an ESPN.com chat, where she responded to questions from fans all over the country.
Hoosiers In The NCAAs Indiana is making its first trip to the NCAA tournament since the 1994-95 season. The Hoosiers have only played in four NCAA tournament games ever, compiling a 1-3 record. Indiana's lone win was an 87-76 victory over Kentucky in 1983. The Hoosiers suffered an 86-70 loss at the hands of Georgia in the second round of the tournament that year. Indiana did not return to the tournament until 1994, when it made a first-round exit after losing to Mississippi, 83-61. The Hoosiers were back in the tournament the next season, falling to Georgia in the opening round, 81-64.
Indiana At A Glance Indiana is a team that has done its damage with defense. The Hoosiers ranked among the Big Ten leaders in scoring defense and field goal percentage defense all year long. Indiana enters the NCAA tournament holding opponents to an average of 64.1 points per game on .403 shooting from the field.
A Tale of Two Seasons Simply put, the Hoosiers are on a roll. Indiana enters the Big Ten tournament on a six-game winning streak and has won eight of its last 10 games. It wasn't always this way, however. The Hoosiers actually had a losing record at 11-13 when Kathi Bennett was released from the hospital. The Hoosiers had played eight games against ranked opponents prior to the time Bennett was released, going 1-7 in those contests. Since that time, Indiana has faced two teams ranked in the top 15 and beat both, claiming a 73-63 win over No. 15 Minnesota at Assembly Hall and a 55-41 win over No. 7 Purdue at the Big Ten tournament.
All-Big Ten Indiana placed three players on this year's all-Big Ten squad. Jill Chapman earned first-team honors from both the coaches and the media. Heather Cassady was a second-team all-conference honoree from the coaches and earned honorable mention all-Big Ten accolades from the media. Erin McGinnis secured honorable mention recognition from the media.
All-Tournament Senior point guard Heather Cassady earned Most Valuable Player honors at the Big Ten tournament after leading the Hoosiers with clutch play and outstanding leadership. Both Cassady and senior center Jill Chapman were named to the all-tournament team.
Beating The Best The Hoosiers enter the Big Dance as winners of six straight games. Of those six wins, four have come over teams with RPIs in the top 50 in the nation, with three victories coming over teams with RPIs in the top 25. In addition, two of Indiana's wins in that span came over teams ranked in the top 15 in the polls (a win at home over 15th-ranked Minnesota and a win at the Big Ten tournament over arch-rival and seventh-ranked Purdue.)
The Bennett Effect Kathi Bennett took over an Indiana program that recorded back-to-back losing seasons in the two years prior to her arrival and has turned it into one that won 20 games in her first year and took home a Big Ten championship in her second year. Bennett's success should come as no surprise, as she turned around the program at the University of Evansville as well. Bennett guided the Aces to a 42-18 record in her final two seasons there after Evansville had gone 9-43 in the two previous years.
Unique Situation Associate head coach Trish Betthauser has been thrust into a situation unique to Indiana. Betthauser has become the vocal leader of the Hoosiers and has seen her role change from being the team's top assistant to being the person who runs practice. Betthauser leads the team during games as well. Although Bennett is still very much a part of preparation and is active on the sidelines and at practice, Betthauser has stepped up as somewhat of an acting head coach since Bennett's accident.
No Replacing Experience One of the themes for Indiana during its successful stretch run has been the ability of the Hoosiers to keep their composure and the most difficult times. Senior leadership is certainly at the core of this fact. The Hoosiers have five seniors on their roster, four of which are in the starting lineup. Seniors Heather Cassady, Jill Chapman, Erin McGinnis and Tara Jones are IU's top scorers and have combined to score 72 percent of Indiana's points on the year.
Bench Production The four seniors in the starting lineup may have teamed to score the overwhelming majority of the Hoosiers' points this year, but it was solid bench production that was a factor during the Big Ten tournament. No player was a more pleasant surprise than senior forward/center Jelena Lazic. The Belgrade, Serbia, native played the least minutes of anyone on the Hoosier roster during the regular season, but shined in Indiana's win over Iowa in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten tournament. Lazic scored six points, grabbed two rebounds and blocked a shot during a crucial four-minute span in which Indiana was forced to play without Chapman due to foul trouble.
More From The Bench Lazic was not alone as a player who made an impact for the Hoosiers off of the bench. Junior Khisha Asubuhi scored seven points and drained a clutch three-pointer during a key stretch of the semifinal game against Purdue when the Hoosiers stretched their lead. Juniors Allison Skapin and Jill Hartman were the heroes off the bench during the championship game, with Skapin scoring six points in nine minutes and Hartman scoring five points, grabbing five rebounds and dishing out three assists off the bench.
TCU From a Distance The Lady Frogs (23-6) won the Conference USA Regular-Season Championship after compiling a 12-2 record in conference games. TCU has cruised in its victories this year, outscoring opponents by just under 14 points per game. Size is a key component for the Lady Frogs, as four of their five starters stand at 5-10 or above. In addition, TCU's first two subs off the bench are both six feet tall. The Lady Frogs limited their opposition to 58.4 points per game on .350 shooting from the field, due in large part to their ability to force turnovers. TCU forced its opponents to commit 20.6 turnovers per game. The Lady Frogs can hit the glass, as well, averaging 14.6 offensive rebounds per game.
Scouting TCU - Front Court TCU's strength lies in the front court, where 6-2 senior forward and Kati Safaritova and 6-4 freshman forward Sandora Irvin form a productive one-two punch. Safaritova scores 13.7 points per game and has the ability to knock down the three. On the year, Safaritova led the team by shooting 41.3 percent from beyond the arc. She isn't afraid to put it up from outside, either, as her 75 three-point attempts rank second on the team. While Safaritova does her damage from outside, Irvin does hers from the inside, averaging 11.0 points and a team-best 9.6 rebounds per game. The stat that jumps off the page, however, when dealing with Irvin is the fact that she averages over 2.8 blocked shots per game (a figure which places her eighth in the nation.) At 6-2, sophomore forward Tiffany Evans rounds out the TCU front court. Evans averages 8.6 points and 5.9 boards per game. Evans will also step out and shoot the trey.
Scouting TCU - Back Court The Lady Frogs' backcourt is anchored by sophomore Ebony Shaw and senior Ashanti Nix. Shaw averages 8.5 points per game and is a threat on the glass, averaging 4.5 rebounds per game. Shaw, who is one of the more athletic players on the TCU roster, can get to the basket. When she gets fouled, she can make teams pay. Shaw led the team with an 83.6 free-throw percentage. As for Nix, she averages 5.9 points and a team-best 3.4 assists per game. Nix is also a player who can get to the basket and chooses her shots well, shooting 45 percent from the field as a guard.
Scouting TCU - Bench
Leading the charge off the Lady Frog bench are a pair of six-footers in Grace Gantt and Niki Newton. A combination small forward/power forward, Gantt can shoot the three and put the ball on the floor. Her ability to both post up and penetrate gives TCU a potent weapon off the bench. Gantt averaged 8.6 points per game, but does have a propensity for turning the ball over. As for Newton, she is another offensive-minded player, averaging 5.5 points per game on 14.1 minutes.
A Look At TCU's Schedule TCU certainly has impressive credentials, entering the tournament ranked 25th in the nation with an RPI of 26, according to collegerpi.com. The Lady Frogs have gotten some quality wins over Cincinnati, Arkansas and Santa Clara, but for the most part, have not played a particularly difficult schedule. The only ranked opponent TCU faced this year was No. 5 Oklahoma, a team that claimed a 76-60 win over the Lady Frogs early in the year. Of TCU's last 12 games, nine were against teams with RPIs of 100 or lower. The three games that the Lady Frogs played during that span that were against teams with RPIs better than 100 resulted in a 1-2 record (a win over Louisville and two losses to Tulane.)
TCU's Tournament History TCU is making its second consecutive appearance in the NCAA Tournament. Last year was the first time the Lady Frogs had ever qualified for the tournament, and they made the most of their opportunity. TCU faced Penn State in the opening round of last year's tournament and handed the Lady Lions a shocking 77-75 loss. Penn State entered the game as the sixth seed, but the 11th-seeded Lady Frogs pulled out the upset behind 21 points from Safaritova. That game was TCU's first ever against a Big Ten opponent, whether regular season or post-season. After the win over Penn State, TCU went on to suffer an 89-50 defeat at the hands of Louisiana Tech.