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‘This is another game’: Bendu Yeaney to face former team when Arizona battles Indiana in Elite Eight

Texas A&M v Arizona Photo by C. Morgan Engel/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

If former Indiana Hoosier Bendu Yeaney is emotional about facing her former team in the Elite Eight, it isn’t showing.

“This is another game,” the Arizona guard said Saturday. “I mean, I know that’s my old school, I have some teammates on there, but we’re just gonna take it as another game and we’re trying to fight for a Final Four. That’s all it is.”

The reaction was pretty much the same from the other side. Indiana head coach Teri Moren said she has not communicated with Yeaney at the NCAA Tournament.

“I mean, we’re in a bubble, so we are just the 32 of us,” Moren said Sunday. “We have stuck pretty closely together. It’s just gonna be another game for us. It doesn’t matter who’s over there on the sideline. It’s about my kids and those that are wearing Indiana across their chest. And whoever the opponent is, we don’t talk about other opponents in pieces, other than tendencies and how we’re going to guard certain things. So there’s no emotional connection to having Bendu on the Arizona side. I’s not Indiana against Bendu. It’s Indiana against Arizona, and so that’s what our focus is.”

Yeaney switched sides this offseason after three-ish seasons with the Hoosiers. She was a starter on a WNIT championship team in 2017-18 and helped Indiana reach the NCAA Tournament in 2018-19. That year, she averaged a career-high 9.7 points and 1.5 steals per contest, often guarding the opposing team’s best player.

Unfortunately, it ended with Yeaney tearing her Achilles in a second-round loss to Oregon. She returned to IU in 2019-20 and appeared in six games but was limited physically and wound up leaving the program in January 2020.

“I really wasn’t ready (to play),” Yeaney told me this offseason. “I wanted to get out there as soon as possible and I should have listened to my body. I realized after the six games that I needed to hold myself back and I realized that maybe it was time for me to get a new change of scenery, too.”

Arizona was an obvious fit. Head coach Adia Barnes tried recruiting Yeaney, a Portland native, to Washington when she was an assistant there. And while Yeaney signed with Indiana instead, their relationship remained strong.

Barnes contacted Yeaney as soon as she hit the transfer portal.

“It was just like we didn’t miss a beat,” Yeaney said this offseason. “We were just right back to how we were. That’s what makes her the best coach in the country.”

Barnes said she and Yeaney haven’t spoken much about her previous school this weekend.

“I want her to just focus and have fun and do her thing,” Barnes said. “But we know Indiana is a really good team, so we’re doing our own work as a staff and preparing. But we’re excited and I think for her playing against her former team... players always get excited to play against their former teams or who recruited them. That’s just the way kids are, but Bendu’s been amazing for us.”

There don’t seem to be any hard feelings about how Yeaney left Indiana. She said this offseason that the Hoosiers helped her get immediate eligibility at Arizona.

Yeaney came off the bench to begin the season but quickly cracked the starting lineup and has been a key player in Arizona’s Elite Eight run. Her biggest contributions, like her physical defense, don’t always manifest on the stat sheet but she’s a major reason the Wildcats are so disruptive on that end of the court.

Aari McDonald and Shaina Pellington give the Wildcats quickness on the perimeter, Helena Pueyo gives them length, and Yeaney brings the strength. She can be an offensive threat from time to time, too. Yeaney has scored in double figures four times this season, including a pair of 14-point games.

She made some big shots in the Sweet Sixteen win over Texas A&M, finishing with seven points, four assists, three rebounds and two steals. It was one of her most well-rounded performances of the season.

“I had to contribute a little bit today, and they got me the ball and I hit open shots and passed the ball,” Yeaney said. “I was just doing what I had to do.”