TERRE HAUTE —
Climbing the ladder of success includes getting knocked down a rung on occasion.
Indiana State coach Teri Moren leads the Sycamores into the Women’s NIT today, making her first Division I postseason appearance as a head coach. The 18-12 Sycamores have lost three out of four, but it’s been an enjoyable season as ISU looks to match the most wins in a season since the 2006-07 team went 19-11.
Youngstown State is coming off a 72-45 loss in the Horizon League Tournament semifinals, but it’s been a historic season for the Penguins (22-9), who have made one of the best one-year turnarounds in the NCAA this season.
The Penguins are 13-1 at Beeghly Center, site of tonight’s 7:05 p.m. (WIBQ-FM 98.5) women’s basketball contest in the first round of the WNIT.
“We definitely embrace the challenge of going on the road. Youngstown State is 13-1 at home so it’s going to be a tough game but I have faith in us,” ISU sophomore guard Natasha Zurek said.
Third-year coach Bob Boldon inherited a team that went 0-30 in the year before his arrival.
“He’s done a good job. It’s always difficult to inherit a program where there’s some work to do. It’s always a process. We didn’t inherit a program quite like that. It takes time to get your system in place,” Moren said.
The Penguins are led by 2,000-point scorer Brandi Brown, who ranks 14th in the NCAA with a 20.5 scoring average. The 5-foot-11 senior, who also averages 11 rebounds per game, was named Horizon League Player of the Year.
ISU forward Racheal Mahan said the Sycamores are hungry to get back on the court after a 71-60 MVC Tournament loss to Northern Iowa.
“Once you lose and you get another chance, it’s an opportunity you have to take advantage of,” Mahan said. “We’ll just have to be quick on our feet and play our help defense.”
The Penguins will be a tough challenge for the Sycamores’ stingy defense.
“She’s really not a post, she wants to put it on the floor and use her athleticism,” Moren said of Brown. “They’re really five guards running an open post. They can all shoot it a little bit.”
The Penguins average 8.8 3-pointers per game, which ranks seventh in the NCAA.
Zurek said it’s similar to playing conference foe Bradley, which played a perimeter-oriented lineup. ISU swept the Braves.
Zurek, a 5-9 sophomore, is coming off a season-high 12 points against Northern Iowa. She’s better known for her hard-nosed defense off the bench.
“I like coming off the bench because I’m able to see what’s going on in the game, sit and watch for a little bit. I can see how the opponent is playing. Just making sure I can contribute in any way possible, whether it’s with my defense or hitting open shots,” Zurek said.
The St. John native might have earned herself an even larger role.
“Natasha’s going to find herself playing more minutes. She may get herself in the [starting] lineup [today],” Moren said. “She obviously brings a spark off the bench which I like. She’s always going to play hard defensively, get 50-50 balls and make special plays. She’s really becoming more of an offensive presence.”
Zurek has knocked down mid-range jump shots with confidence at times, but she’s at her best attacking the paint.
“She’s a rugged guard that isn’t afraid to mix it up with players that are bigger than she is. She’s not afraid of the physicality of this level,” Moren said.
ISU’s coach said after a quality practice Tuesday that her players are looking forward to extending the season.
“We’re grateful for the opportunity that we get to extend our season and practice together and get on the road together again and play another game. It’s just another building block to what we’re trying to accomplish with this program in terms of postseason play,” Moren said.