A little over a week ago, after Indiana’s assertive victory over Northern Illinois, Teri Moren was asked whether or not she believes Bendu Yeaney’s defensive prowess translates at all to offensive success.
“I don’t know that what she gives us defensively ignites anything she does offensively,” Moren said. “We want our kids to play with a tremendous amount of freedom and she’s just one of those kids who is going to play to her strengths.”
In Wednesday night’s 66-46 victory over Butler, the two phases of Indiana’s game again seemed almost mutually exclusive. On a night where the Hoosiers were far from great offensively, Yeaney & Co. managed to dilute the overall effect it had on the outcome with even more stellar defensive moves.
Up to this point in Indiana’s non-conference slate, the Hoosiers have largely played with the luxury of fast offensive starts from different performers seemingly every game, most notably Ali Patberg and Brenna Wise, with few exceptions. But Wednesday night inside Assembly Hall was a little different. Though IU’s leaders in the end emerged, Indiana was just 7-of-17 on shooting at the end of the first period, then compelled to again turn to defense in order for the Hoosiers to bail themselves out of another slow start.
“I thought we were very average on the offensive end as far as our ability to take care of the basketball goes,” Moren said Wednesday night, pointing to the team’s inability to find its rhythm against its in-state foe.
Though Indiana played sub-optimally with the ball in hand for much of the night, the team’s performance was in some ways a microcosm of how the group has managed to get it done – and remain undefeated – through eight games in this young season.
“I wouldn’t say it’s what we pride ourselves on, but we want to be efficient on the offensive end,” Wise said. “We’d like to have a good offensive and defensive night and be able to put the two together.”
Yeaney has already proven to be more than capable of defending against some of the nation’s best, exceeding initial expectations. Though the sophomore’s efforts were again sustained against the Bulldogs, it was this time Patberg who was charged with guarding Butler’s best player. Patberg answered the challenge of Whitney Jennings.
“I thought AP was incredible defensively as far as what she had to do to keep Jennings quiet tonight,” Moren said. “I thought we competed.”
The physical, defensive-minded style of play may be unfamiliar to fans of the program from years past, but it’s quickly becoming this group’s identity this winter. Whether or not it’s their only choice at this point in time is clearly irrelevant, because things are working out just fine.
“I think back at UCLA about how inferior we were from an athletic standpoint, but just about our toughness and the grittiness that we showed,” Moren said. “I think that’s a key ingredient for a great defensive team. You have to understand that what we don’t have in athleticism we have to make up for in our heart and hustle.”
Without a doubt, it’s going to eventually take more than defense alone. After spoiling opportunities for key non-conference victories a season ago, Teri Moren’s 2018 team is surely placing further emphasis on getting early season wins whenever possible, which could ultimately be the difference in securing an NCAA tournament berth. And still, every early season win has a purpose.
With the rapid and near immediate success of the program to begin the year, it’s easy to forget that this is still an incredibly new (and in some regards young) team that is still working toward playing as a cohesive unit on a nightly basis.
“Every game that we’ve won, we’ve celebrated the night of but the next day, we’re back to work and there’s always something we can work on,” Patberg said. “We’re always focusing on the things we need to do to be better.”
And those things, despite the 8-0 record, run aplenty. For the time being, however, Indiana is doing just fine.