Depth key to IU women's basketball success in 2021-22 season
The five returning starters are a known quantity for the Indiana women's basketball team.
But if the Hoosiers want to build on last year's Elite Eight run and compete for the Big Ten championship, they need contributions off the bench from names fans aren't quite as familiar with yet.
At the top of the list are sophomores Kiandra Browne and Chloe Moore-McNeil. They both saw playing time as freshmen, but are ready to take some big steps in their second year.
"Those two stand out the most for me in terms of the summer — what a great summer they both had," IU coach Teri Moren said.
Browne, a 6-foot-2 forward, was limited by a torn labrum in her hip last season and needed five months to get healthy this offseason.
"She progressed really well and at a fast rate, quicker than we thought," Moren said. "That's because she is so driven in her rehab, her recovery and she's looked fantastic."
Moore-McMcNeil is a 5-11 guard who enjoyed some of her best moments late in the year, momentum that has carried over.
"Chloe really took advantage of the summer with (strength coach) Kevin (Konopasek), and she just looks more comfortable," Moren said. "I don't know if that's partly because things around her have started to look more like a college campus, but it's typical for the leap freshmen make to sophomore year."
To a certain extent, that logic applies to 6-5 redshirt sophomore Arielle Wisne, who saw her first college basketball action last season.
"Arielle is still coming along as a kid who can perhaps come in and spell Mackenzie (Holmes) from time to time," Moren said.
Georgia transfer Hose ready to shoot
The newcomers are the real question mark for the Hoosiers, only one of which has college experience.
That would be Georgia transfer Caitlin Hose, whose participation in the 3-point contest at Hoosier Hysteria provided a hint of what IU is hoping for from the 5-10 guard, who has two years of eligibility.
"I think she will find minutes with her ability to knock down shots," Moren said. "She's coming from a terrific Georgia program, so her learning curve is much faster than those younger kids, but this is all new to her, too — how we play and do things.
"She's learning but she is mature and has been a really nice addition to what we need, which is somebody that can hit a shot consistently from beyond the arc."
"She can shoot it well," the junior All-American said. "She's a veteran, seasoned player who knows what it takes to play at a high level and perform at a high level, so I'm looking forward to seeing her on the floor."
Freshman trio finding their footing
The younger kids are the three freshmen — Alabama point guard Kaitlin Peterson, Georgia wing Keyarah Berry and Serbian forward Mona Zaric, a late addition to the recruiting class.
"It's what you would expect," Moren said. "They all look like a deer in the headlights most days, but they are coming along nicely."
The coach says Peterson is a bit ahead of the others, but overall their new teammates like what they see.
"Kaitlin Peterson is really quick, learning from (Nicole Cardano-Hillary)," Holmes said. "The defensive pressure that Nikki brings is something I think Kaitlin has the potential to do.
"The other two have worked really hard and gotten used to what we're doing. Mona is a long, athletic 4-player and Berry is very athletic as well, so I think they're all going to be contributors and help us this year."
Zaric finds herself in a similar position to Latvian native Aleksa Gulbe, who is entering her senior season.
"I'm really surprised how quickly (Mona)'s adapted to America, to us, to all the culture," Gulbe said. "It's funny seeing her as a freshman and just remembering the stuff I was introduced to for the first time, such as American food experiences and just being in the workouts and stuff. She's handling it really well."
Moren echoes that notion.
"Mona has proven she understands our concepts and what we're trying to do so her learning curve is probably going to come a little faster," the IU coach said.
But in all, patience is the best policy when it comes to the newest Hoosiers.
"Typical freshman stuff they have to learn," Moren said. "The biggest thing is the workpiece and the pace we want to play at. Then certainly the defensive end is the side of the ball they struggle with the most."
Waggoner a walk-on no more
One other returner could also be a factor off the bench in veteran Grace Waggoner.
Waggoner, a junior from Vinceness, has appeared in 41 career games as a walk-on, but that designation changed last week when the Lilly Scholar was put on a basketball scholarship.
Having been accepted to the MBA program in the Kelley School of Business, this will be Waggoner's last season as a basketball player. So IU rewarded her with a scholarship for her final year, making it official last Monday at practice.
"She's an Indiana kid who really has been steadfast in her love for not only the game but Indiana and this team," Moren said. "… We thought as a staff it was just fitting we were able to do this for Grace Waggoner.
"You could tell she was excited and she should be. There's something to be said for a person who walks into a high-level basketball program like ours here at Indiana and does it without getting anything in return other than the joy being around her teammates, coming to practice every day and being in the grind with them. It was just an opportunity that presented itself for us to really show her our appreciation for being here in our program."