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Hoosiers seek to defend home court against hot Fairfield squad

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (AP) — Indiana doesn’t want a repeat of what happened on its home floor in the women's NCAA Tournament last season.

The then-top seeded Hoosiers were upset by No. 9 seed Miami 70-68 in the second round, and the memory still stings.

The fourth-seeded Hoosiers (24-5) will have a home-court advantage again when face 13th-seeded Fairfield (31-1) in Saturday’s first round. Fifth-seeded Oklahoma (22-9) will face No. 12 Florida Gulf Coast (29-4) in the second game.

“I would say it’s definitely motivation,” Hoosiers guard Sara Scalia said of the early exit. “We have a lot of the same players that came back, so they kind of know how we felt last year after we did lose to Miami. Definitely not a feeling we want to feel again this year. We got the advantage to play at home again, which we’re really grateful for. So we’ve got to take advantage of that and our home crowd.”

Indiana forward Mackenzie Holmes said the loss a year ago has faded a bit.

“But we kind of have to put it behind us,” said Holmes, who averages a team-high 20 points. “This is a new team this year though we have a lot of the same players. We’re a different team, and we have a really good Fairfield team to prepare for. So that’s where our focus has been this past week.”

Hoosiers coach Teri Moren said the Stags certainly deserve their full attention.

“The fact that they shoot right at 242 more 3s than we do says a lot about who they are in terms of how they want to generate their offense,” Moren said. “I think they do a tremendous job of really trying to put pressure on you, getting to the paint (and kicking it out). They share the ball extremely well. They have a dynamic point guard in (Janelle) Brown, who was their (Metro Atlantic Athletic) Conference Player of the Year.”

Brown averages 13.6 points, hitting nearly 45% from 3-point range. Meghan Andersen leads the Stags with a 15.2 average.

The No. 25 Stags have made 33.3% of its 844 3-point shots

“I think all of them have the green light although I think Coach (Carly Thibault-DuDonis) wants them to take great shots,” Moren said. “But they play with a lot of freedom, a lot of movement, a lot of cutting. Going to put pressure on us defensively to stay below our man but also communicate at a very, very high level.”

Moren said the break has been good for Holmes, who didn’t play until the fourth quarter of the Big Ten Tournament quarterfinals loss to Michigan because of a knee injury.

Brown said the Stags all have ability to score.

“So at any given day, any given night, you know, next man up, whoever is ready,” she said. “I think that’s what I really find interesting about our team is that it doesn’t matter if we got road runners or if we got guards, as long as you got confidence, you can shoot the ball.”

Fairfield lists its taller players as road runners.

“We’re not your typical forwards or posts,” Emina Selimovic said. “We have length and inside we have our game, but we can also run the floor and stretch the floor.

FIRE AWAY

Much like Fairfield, Florida Gulf Coast loves the long distance. The Eagles have taken nearly 200 more 3-point attempts than No. 18 Oklahoma. Fittingly, everyone on the Eagles’ roster is just listed as a shooter.

“We have to think completely differently than we have, especially in the last few weeks where we’ve really played dominant inside presence players.” Sooners coach Jennie Baranczyk said. “So that is something that we will have to adjust. You can’t just sit in the paint. You have to guard everybody, and everybody has to guard.”

Baranczyk said the Eagles are not a team that’s sneaking up on anybody.

“They’re a very, very talented team,” she said of Coach Karl Smesko’s team. “He’s done an incredible job for a long time.”

Senior Skylar Vann, Oklahoma’s leading scorer with a 14.7 average, said playing together will be the key.

“There’s not really a post presence, so that means you’ve got to be able to guard and stay in front but also not allow them to shoot wide open 3s,” Vann said.

Florida Gulf Coast has won its opening game as the No. 12 seed the past two seasons, beating Virginia Tech in 2022 and Washington State last year.

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