After suffering a three-game losing streak, the Indiana women’s basketball team bounced back in a big way with a dominating road win at Penn State. While certain problems surrounding the Hoosiers were exposed during this losing streak, one constant remained: Mackenzie Holmes.
Holmes kept up her efficient play, shooting 9-for-11 from the field and finishing with 18 points, which tied a team high with Ali Patberg in this game. The freshman forward is averaging 14.3 points over the past four games and was a big reason the Hoosiers turned things around on Thursday. Winning 50-50 balls and making constant hustle plays was the difference, according to Moren, in a win that gave the Hoosiers renewed confidence moving forward.
Getting back in the win column with a 76-60 win over Penn State was imperative for Indiana, but perhaps more important news going forward came on Jan. 16 when Minnesota’s leading scorer Destiny Pitts announced she was entering the transfer portal. Pitts was suspended indefinitely from the team because of “body language” in the team’s 56-54 home loss to Northwestern on Jan. 9 and later decided to transfer.
In addition to leading the team with 16.3 points per game, Pitts averaged the most minutes played and will be a huge loss for Lindsay Whalen’s squad entering its matchup versus Indiana. Pitts was shooting an incredible 45 percent from the 3-point line and was second on the team in rebounds per game with 4.8.
The loss of Pitts will shape both teams’ approach to the game. For Minnesota, it means playing without its No. 1 scoring option, which has not gone well in its four games without Pitts. Losses to Illinois, Iowa and Wisconsin and a win versus Purdue has plummeted Minnesota to 11th in the Big Ten standings after a promising start to the season.
With the absence of Pitts, Minnesota has looked to freshman guard Sara Scalia for offensive production. Scalia is averaging 11.4 points and 4.7 rebounds per game, but has taken advantage of the offensive void that has come with the departure of Pitts. Scalia scored 16 points in Minnesota’s first game without Pitts and followed it up with 18-point efforts versus Iowa and Purdue.
Scalia isn’t nearly the prolific scorer Pitts is, but possesses a similar skillset. Scalia’s first look on offense versus Indiana will likely be from beyond the arc. Shooting 40 percent from three, having a hand up whenever Scalia touches the ball will be necessary for the Hoosiers.
The role of forward Taiye Bello has also become more important, anchoring Minnesota down low. Bello is averaging 12.2 points per game and takes on a lot of responsibility in the paint, averaging 9.7 rebounds per game. Holmes and Gulbe will be matched up with Bello throughout Monday’s game and will need to focus on staying out of foul trouble, which has been a problem for the Indiana forwards lately.
For the Hoosiers, this next stretch of games until the highly-anticipated matchup versus Maryland on Feb. 6 is all about regaining confidence and focusing on the areas of the game that plagued them throughout their three-game losing streak. The next three games versus Minnesota, Wisconsin and Purdue present a great opportunity to do this, as each team sits in the bottom five of the Big Ten.
Turnovers essentially handed Iowa and Northwestern overtime wins over the Hoosiers, and if Thursday’s game versus Penn State is any indication, this problem has still not been fixed. While Indiana cruised to a 16-point lead, it still turned the ball over 17 times. Giving its opponent this many second chances will continue to result in losses, and has to be head coach Teri Moren’s biggest focus moving forward.
After the win over Penn State, Moren focused on Patberg when addressing ways the Indiana offense can improve. Patberg had 18 points versus Penn State and a continued focus on playing aggressive will be of utmost importance going forward, according to Moren.
“The more aggressive Ali Patberg plays, the more aggressive I think everybody plays,” Moren said. “She will need to continue to do that as we continue to grow in our program and grow as a team.”
We’ll see if the Hoosiers have used this weekend to fix some of their problems as they have a quick turnaround with Minnesota coming to Bloomington on Monday. Tipoff is scheduled for 6 p.m. and can be seen on the Big Ten Network.