Tales of the H-T: blog posts taken from or inspired by The Herald-Times archive at the Monroe County History Center. Blog by Rod Spaw.
March is a special month for fans of Indiana University basketball, a time of magic, memories, and championships.
This year, Hoosiers will be watching both the men’s and women’s tournaments closely, since IU will have a team in each one. That’s not unprecedented; it happened last year, too. But there has been only one year in which both the men’s and women’s teams entered post-season play as the regular season Big 10 champions. That was 1983.
Back then, winning a conference championship was old news for the men. The 1983 title was their 15th. It was different for the women, who were playing in only the second season of women’s basketball in the Big 10 conference.
Winning a championship seemed unlikely as the 1982-83 season got underway; IU’s women ended nonconference play with a 3-6 record and lost their first Big 10 game to Ohio State. The Hoosiers then won 14 of their next 15 games by focusing on defense, rebounding and balanced scoring.
A loss to Illinois on March 6 left the women’s squad one game out of first place with one game to play – a home date with league-leading Ohio State, which had beaten IU by 16 points in their first meeting.
If a share of the conference title weren’t enough motivation, the Indiana women knew it was likely that the winner would be the only Big 10 team invited to that year’s NCAA postseason tournament, which was limited to 36 teams, compared to 68 teams today. Due to a tie-breaking formula used by the NCAA selection committee, IU would get the bid if it defeated Ohio State.
The coaching matchups also offered an interesting footnote. IU Coach Maryalyce Jeremiah was a native of Ohio and had started her coaching career there. Ohio State Coach Tara VanDerveer had played basketball for IU in the 1970s, when women competed in the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women.
The title game was played March 11 at Assembly Hall. Covering for the Herald-Telephone (later renamed the Herald-Times) was sportswriter Kitty Unthank. The first paragraph of her game story, though unconventional, was evocative: “Like being kissed for the first time by someone who really knows how to kiss.”
That’s how IU coach Jeremiah described her feelings after the Hoosiers defeated Ohio State, 62-56, to earn a share of the Big Ten title in front of 2,000 home fans. IU was led in scoring by Rochelle Bostic and Linda Cunningham. Denise Jackson hauled in nine rebounds to pace the team on the boards.
Unthank wrote that the team celebrated its win with “backflips and boogie, hugs and tears.” H-T photographer John Terhune captured the moment when IU players lifted each other up to take down the nets, with an assist from IU athletic director Ralph Floyd. They hadn’t waited for a ladder.
“We’ve worked so hard for this,” a jubilant Jackson said after the game. “We’ve all come to practice sometimes dreading it because we’ve worked our butts off this year. There were days we’d sit on those stairs instead of climbing them to go home because we were so tired.”
Indiana did get the Big 10’s only bid to the NCAA tournament that year. The team’s first game was with the University of Kentucky, which had defeated IU 83-72 in December at a game in Bloomington.
The Hoosiers returned the favor that March, beating the Wildcats 87-76 in a first-round NCAA tournament game, which was played in Lexington. IU’s tourney run ended the next game, when the Hoosiers lost to Georgia in the second round.
Coincidentally, the IU men also lost their second-round tournament game that year – to UK.
Reaching the NCAA tourney in only the second year of Big 10 women’s competition, it would be another 11 years before IU returned to the post-season tournament. It would be 40 years – 2023 — before the women would claim another Big 10 regular season title.