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Excellent defense outweighs poor offensive showing as Indiana beats Illinois

Despite a rough shooting night, Indiana was able to escape Champaign with a 58-50 win over the Illini on Sunday. The team went 32% from the field and a rough 17% from 3-point range, but the defense was able to get the job done and finish the game when the Illini had some momentum towards the end of the game.

Grace Berger and Nicole Cardano-Hillary celebrate after a big bucket for the Hoosiers. (Photo credits: IU Athletics)

Mackenzie Holmes, who has been huge for the No. 15 Hoosiers all season, did not play her best game Sunday. The sophomore went 1-for-16 from the line and finished with seven points. Ali Patberg was the team’s leading scorer with 16 points, but only shot 5-for-14 from the field.

It was quite the slow start for both teams, as both teams had a combined 22 points in the first quarter. Turnovers hurt Indiana at the beginning, as the four lost possessions early on allowed the Illini to hang in the game. IU’s scoring was very balanced, as Holmes, Patberg and Grace Berger each had two points. 

Indiana continued to be spectacular on the boards, as Holmes along with freshman Kiandra Browne helped IU prevent any Illinois second-chance points. Browne’s energy has taken this team a whole new level, as the more experienced players really appreciate her passion on defense. 

A Nicole Cardano-Hillary and-1 sparked a big run for the Hoosiers in the second quarter, as the team’s energy looked much better.

The Hoosier defense had one of its best performances of the year, holding Illinois to 21 points in the first half. Cardano-Hillary and Browne’s great defensive efforts made it much easier for Patberg, Holmes and Berger to score in transition. IU’s ability to turn Illinois over really helped the Hoosiers jump out to a double-digit lead. Players gave credit to the coaches for a great gameplan to stifle the Illini offense.

“Defensively, we always come in prepared,” Patberg said. “Our coaches always have us ready and prepared for their plays. And we were just in our spots that we were supposed to be in.”

As good as Indiana was defensively in the first half, its offense helped a lot to open the second half. While Holmes struggled from the field, Patberg picked up the slack, as she had 11 points through the third quarter. The Hoosiers were up 17 at one point, thanks to some timely shots in transition.

But that lead was soon cut to seven, as Illinois went on a big run at the end of the quarter. Indiana struggled from the field at the end of the third, and that came back to hurt, as IU clung to a single-digit lead going into the final quarter of play.

The Hoosiers kept trying to get Holmes touches to score the ball, but she continued to struggle from the field and missed some shots inside. Illinois did a great job of stopping the forward duo of Holmes and Aleksa Gulbe, and forced Indiana to make some tough shots. The Hoosier lead was down to one point at a moment, but Indiana would hang on to escape Champaign with a win 58-50. Even if the team did not play it’s best game, the team found a way to win. 

“I just think that we made enough plays,” head coach Teri Moren said, “whether it was up two, up three, up five. I think Nicole after the airball came back and attacked the rim and gave us a little bit of breathing room. And Aleksa came in and gave us four quick points, which was a nice shot in the arm.”

The Hoosiers face a major test next week, as the No. 12 Michigan Wolverines come into Bloomington. Indiana will need to find a way to slow down Naz Hillmon, as she is one of the leading candidates for Big Ten Player of the Year, in order to get a quality win come Thursday.

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