INDIANAPOLIS – So where should we begin with Tyra Buss of Indiana -- the 1,208 minutes she has played this season? Or the 22 she hasn’t?
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Meet the Iron Woman of Indiana Hoosiers basketball. No, check that. The Iron Women. Because a teammate – Amanda Cahill – is out there nearly as often.
Which brings us to Thursday night in the Big Ten Tournament.
It is late in the fourth overtime, and Indiana and Michigan State have been at it for more than 2 ½ hours. Buss and Cahill have not taken one millisecond of rest. They are in their 60th minutes on the floor.
Exhausted, right? Playing on fumes, correct?
Well . . .
With 40 seconds left, and Michigan State ahead 107-106, Buss pulls up and buries a 3-pointer for her 24th point and a 109-107 lead. Weary legs? What weary legs?
“I wasn’t really thinking about how my legs felt,” she would say later, sitting down in the locker room, at least. “I just kept telling myself, `I’m not tired.'”
The Spartans come back to tie, and then with three seconds left, Cahill stands calmly at the line and makes two free throws – her 37th and 38th points -- to finally settle the night. Fatigue? What fatigue?
“Most of it came down to being mental,” she would mention afterward. “I was focusing on it going in. I didn’t want to think any negative thoughts.”
And so the Hoosiers advanced 111-109 in the longest game in the history of either the Big Ten women’s tournament or Bankers Life Fieldhouse – be it college or the NBA Pacers – and two Indiana seniors continued their own basketball marathons.
Here’s one thing to know about Cahill. She averages 38.4 minutes a game, putting her in the top 10 in the nation. Here’s something else to know. She’s not even first on her own team.
Thursday night has pushed Buss’ average to 40.3 minutes per game – more than any man or woman in college basketball. As noted, she has been out all of 22 minutes in 30 contests.
“It just kind of shows my toughness, and that I can fight through anything,” she said. “I’m the senior point guard and the leader, I just want to be out there so I can help my team.
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“When I feel like I’m getting tired, I just tell myself I’m not tired. That’s just what it takes. It’s all in my mind. My parents have always told me that, my mom especially. She was my track coach. Just when I think I’m getting tired, I’m not getting tired. It’s easier when I’m playing for my teammates. That’s why I just love this game so much, it’s a team sport. You’re not doing it all on your own.”
Coach Teri Moren has grown accustomed to this display of steel from both of her veterans.
“You’ve got to remember this, they started every game of their career, so they’ve been in overtime games. Maybe not four. That’s just been the tale of them the whole year. They’re going to will their team to a victory. It’s just a toughness; both of those kids are true competitors in every sense of the word.”
Moren mentioned a point during Thursday’s prolonged struggle when an assistant coach asked Buss if maybe she might need a short rest. “Tyra looked at her like, `You’ve got to be kidding me, right?’
“I’ve said this a million times. You want to take that kid out, she’s mad at you.”
Name a sport, and Buss has probably tried it. Finished second as a kid in a national Punt, Pass and Kick competition. Played shortstop for a boys’ Little League baseball team. Won big at tennis in high school. Thrived in track and cross-country. Averaged more than 45 points a game her senior season in Mount Carmel, Ill.
Now, college days are nearly over for her and Cahill. They both have started all 128 games of their Indiana careers and wanted badly to go out with a big last season. But the Hoosiers started 1-6 in the Big Ten and had to scramble to stay above water. Then, they started winning.
Thursday’s victory was their ninth in 10 games. Still, Indiana is 17-13, and they both fear the next loss could be the end. Which is why they weren’t about to come out against Michigan State, not if they played until dawn.
“A lot’s on the line for us,” Cahill said.
“Their seniors have literally put their team on their backs,” Michigan State coach Suzy Merchant said.
And when they get tired, they just tell themselves they’re not. By the fourth overtime Thursday night, Buss admitted it was starting to get a little hard to believe herself.