Some may say it’s just an exhibition game, but others may be convinced this Indiana women’s basketball team can reach greater heights than its preseason No. 24 ranking. Nevertheless, we got our first look at the Hoosiers in their dominant 109-43 win over McKendree on Sunday.
Indiana showed it boasts a team with multiple scoring options, and maybe even more depth than it thought heading into the season.
Berger, Gulbe take a big step forward
Before the season started, head coach Teri Moren said she has never see anyone work as hard as Grace Berger did over the offseason. That hard work looks like it has paid off, at least so far. Berger finished today’s game with 14 points on 6-for-11 shooting. She also contributed six steals, three rebounds and two assists.
Moren highlights Berger’s ability to get to the rim, as well as her mid-range game as her two strengths, but has also seen an improvement in her 3-point shot. Though Berger was 0-2 from deep Sunday, her confidence level has improved greatly, according to Moren. Moren said she knew Berger would play well because of the ability she has shown against the team’s male practice squad.
“[Berger] is playing with a confidence level at an all-time high,” Moren said. “I think a lot of that has to do with her teammates that give her good juice every day.”
Another player who looks like she has made a big leap is sophomore Aleksa Gulbe. Gulbe led all players in scoring today with 20 points, and showed off an aspect of her game that not many Indiana fans recognize. Shooting 3-for-5 from beyond the arc, Moren loves the flexibility Gulbe gives the offense.
“The great thing about our offense is everyone is interchangeable in it,” Moren said. “Regardless if we are running our motion or chin series, it doesn’t matter where you are, you all have the same cuts. It’s just different because [Gulbe] is bigger, but she can also stretch you out.”
Going forward, Berger and Gulbe will play a key role in relieving some of the point scoring demand put on Ali Patberg and Jaelynn Penn. Gulbe finished the game shooting 8-for-13 from the field to go along with eight rebounds.
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Promising recruiting class shows versatility
Perhaps the most intriguing thing to come from Sunday’s exhibition game was the emergence of Jorie Allen. The freshman from Bedford North Lawrence was the 2019 Indiana Miss Basketball and scored 15 points Sunday in a variety of ways.
Allen was willing to run in transition throughout the game and had a few nice finishes through contact. But what really stood out was her ability to hit the 3-point shot. Allen finished the game 2-for-2 from beyond the arc, which put a smile on Moren’s face.
“[Allen] can cut, we post her up, she also has the ability to stretch you out, and she is just going to continue to get better,” Moren said.
While Moren was impressed with Allen’s versatility, the thing Moren likes most about Allen is her grit. Playing with this kind of toughness will continue to get Allen meaningful minutes for Moren’s squad.
“That is an intangible [Allen] has always played with,” Moren said. “You hope that resonates with the rest of the locker room because there is nothing better than having a tough kid like that on the floor.”
Another young player that showed promise Sunday was redshirt freshman Chanel Wilson. Wilson suffered an ACL tear and was forced to miss all of last season, but didn’t look slowed down Sunday at all. While Wilson left the game in the fourth quarter with an ankle injury, she allowed Patberg to rest and scored nine points to go along with seven assists.
Wilson could play a key role as the main backup point guard for Patberg. Moren thinks Wilson provides a nice change of pace from how Patberg plays. Priding themselves on playing fast in transition, Moren says Wilson fits this role perfectly.
“Nelly’s wiggle room is harder to guard and she gives us something different at that spot,” Moren said. “She looked not just sound, but very comfortable.”
Newcomers Mackenzie Holmes and Hannah Noveroske also played their first game on Branch McCracken court Sunday. Moren said the two freshmen still have a lot of learning to do defensively, but could eventually provide a strong presence for the team down low. Being able to establish leverage and playing with more toughness are two things Moren said they can improve on.
“There’s something to be said about experience,” Moren said. “We have to be patient with Mackenzie and Hannah and understand that their intentions are in the right place. A lot of it is just placement and positioning and not allowing the offensive post player to get too deep.”
While the two freshmen are still raw, Moren hopes one of them can emerge as an anchor at the center position.
Defense leads to offense
From the opening tip, it was clear Indiana wanted to pressure McKendree into making mistakes. Six of Indiana’s first eight points came from three steals by Grace Berger that she took coast to coast. This energy on the defensive side sparked a source of energy in an Indiana team that Moren said is always looking to get offense from its defense.
“I think we will always hang our hat on that end,” Moren said. “That will always be our identity as I have always said.”
Going into the game, Moren said she thought McKendree was going to try to get the ball inside as much as possible. Because of this, Indiana was able to dig down to create steals, like Berger did early on. Moren thought the team’s ball pressure was OK, but needs to be much better going forward. The Hoosiers finished with 29 transition points.
Indiana will host Mount Saint Mary’s at 2 p.m. Nov. 7 in the team’s first official game. This game cannot be seen on TV, but fans can listen to the radio call on WHCC 105.1 FM.