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No. 4 Indiana preps for top-10 clash on Thanksgiving with defending national champion Stanford

Indiana has had multiple wins, especially in the past couple years, which have taken the program to new heights. Whether it’s defeating Ohio State on the road in conference play, or upsetting NC State in the Sweet 16 last year, the Hoosiers have proven to show up in big games. 

Now, IU has another opportunity on Thursday to make another jump as a team against one of the elite college basketball programs in the country — the defending national champion Stanford Cardinal. No. 4 Indiana faces No. 7 Stanford to start the Baha Mar Pink Flamingo Classic in the Bahamas.

Along with winning the championship, the Cardinal ended the year with a 31-2 record and defeated their Pac-12 rival Arizona in the final game. This season, Stanford is coming into this game against Indiana with a 3-1 record, with its only loss being to a very good Texas team. The Cardinal are also coming off a quality win on the road against Gonzaga, so the Hoosiers will likely see a confident Stanford team hungry for another quality win come Thanksgiving day.

Stanford is led by a tandem in two terrific guards in Haley Jones and Lexie Hull, with both averaging double digits in scoring. Jones’ absence due to injury was felt in the last game the Cardinal had against Gonzaga, as Stanford found itself down by as many as 17 points in the first quarter. There has been lots of speculation on if one of the nation’s top guards will play against the Hoosiers on Thursday. If Jones gets the green light, Indiana will need to come up with a plan to limit her touches and impact offensively.

Stanford’s Lexie Hull is not a player you can afford to get hot if you’re the Hoosiers, as she is up for the Ann Meyers Drysdale award this year, which is given to the nation’s best shooting guard. The junior is off to a solid start this season, averaging 11.6 points and 6.5 rebounds per game while shooting 43 percent from the field. Indiana’s perimeter defense is going to have to be near flawless, as the Cardinal’s dynamic duo is one that is very explosive.

Not only does Stanford pose a challenge with its guard play, but its entire starting five is a threat to score the ball at any time. Francesca Belibi and Cameron Brink give the Cardinal some size that will give Mackenzie Holmes and Aleksa Gulbe quite the challenge on Thursday. Indiana head coach Teri Moren said she knows there’s a lot to account for when playing an excellent team like Stanford.

“They are going to test us in every way,” Moren said, “with their size and certainly with the way they move the ball and the way they cut away from the ball.”

After what should be an exciting game on Thursday, the Hoosiers will take on another solid team in the undefeated Miami Hurricanes on Sunday to finish off the Baha Mar Pink Flamingo Classic. Even though Miami has squeaked by some teams it should have beaten by more, the Hurricanes have looked better each game that they play, so the Hoosiers will need to bring lots of energy to take on a very fast and hungry Miami team come Sunday.

Miami prides itself on defense, and it shows in their past few games. The Hurricanes are holding teams to an average of 48.8 points per game this season, and teams have been shooting in the low 20s to high 30s on average against Miami. Granted, Indiana will be by far the best offense Miami has seen so far, but the Hoosiers cannot afford to turn the ball over against a team that is gritty and passionate about its defense.

Similar to Stanford, the Hurricanes are also led by a strong guard duo in Kelsey Marshall and Mykea Gray. Marshall will be the main focus on defense for Indiana, as she has scored in double figures three out of four games played. With the senior being 5-foot-9, look for the 5-foot-11 Ali Patberg to be assigned the task of guarding Marshall and limiting her chances.

Gray may not be the most consistent of scorers, but that’s not why she gets the minutes that she does. Tied for the most assists per game on the team, Gray is talented at finding the open teammate. Whether it be Marshall or one of their forwards, she always seems to find an open teammate somewhere for a basket. Defensive assignments are going to be a big factor in deciding Sunday night’s game. 

Overall, these next couple of days are a big opportunity for Indiana to continue its strong start to the season, or even erase any doubt viewers may have after watching the Quinnipiac game on Saturday. How the Hoosiers play against an elite program in Stanford and a scrappy Miami team are going to be huge indicators for this team’s success as Big Ten play approaches. For Moren and company, defense will be a huge factor in going 2-0 this weekend.

“We’re still giving up way too many easy baskets,” Moren said. “We’ve always prided ourselves on that side of the ball. It’s going back and it’s watching film, and trying to clean up some of that stuff. But by the end of last season we were really sound defensively. And so I would say I look forward to the same sort of growth that we will continue to get better.”

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