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No. 4 Indiana has chances but falls short against No. 7 Stanford

After erasing an 8-point deficit in just one minute and 40 seconds, Grace Berger was fouled and was sent to the free-throw line to try and tie the game late in No. 4 Indiana’s showdown with No. 7 Stanford. 

She missed both, but Indiana was lucky enough that Stanford’s star player Cameron Brink only made one free throw and kept it a one-possession game. Ali Patberg had a look from 3-point range to tie it with the clock winding down, but it would not fall and Indiana suffered its first loss of the season 69-66 to the Cardinal.

A huge contributor to Thursday’s loss was the inability to get Mackenzie Holmes going on offense. Holmes went 3-for-12 from the field and had a season-low six points on the night, as she struggled with the amount of size Stanford had. Despite the loss, head coach Teri Moren said she’s staying optimistic and says there’s a lot the team can take away from that game.

“I feel for my kids today. I thought they competed on a day we didn’t shoot great,” Moren said. “If you look at three of our starters, Aleksa [Gulbe], Mackenzie, and Grace, they struggled today and yet we still have a chance. I guess if there’s a silver lining there it’s that we can compete with anyone in the country on a day we didn’t shoot the ball as well as we wanted in order to beat a team like Stanford.”

The two teams found themselves in a defensive slugfest to start, as each team got its fair share of blocked shots early on in the first. Offensively, Indiana did a great job of scoring in transition against a very sound Cardinal defense. As soon as Stanford scored, Nicole Cardano-Hillary and Patberg did a great job of pushing the ball up the floor quickly and getting it to Berger for a score. 

However, Stanford would adjust to Indiana’s gameplan, as the Cardinal went on a quick 8-0 run thanks to some great post play from Francesca Belibi. Berger continued to shoot the ball very well, scoring seven of the first 15 Hoosier points of the day. In a bit of a dry first quarter, Indiana hoped to pick it up offensively as the game progressed.

Brink was a problem for the Hoosiers all day long. Being 6-foot-4 and having the skills she has, she was able to score in a variety of ways to create defensive breakdowns for Indiana. Whenever Indiana seemed to stop a Stanford run early on, it seemed like the Cardinal had a way to score right back at Indiana. Whether it was a 3 from Hannah Jump or a layup by Lexie Hull, you could tell you were watching last year’s national champions in how this team ran its offense.

After Stanford started to pull away from IU a little bit in the second, the Hoosiers did a great job of persevering and not giving into being down double digits to the defending champions. Cardano-Hillary did a great job of taking care of the ball, getting to the line, and knocking down some free throws. The shooting also started to get going, as Cardano-Hillary knocked down back to back threes to cut Stanford’s lead to three at the half.

The size of Stanford continued to be a problem to open up the third, as it seemed like the Hoosiers couldn’t establish any post scoring with Brink blocking almost anything going her way. This put IU in a place it hadn’t been all season, as with Holmes being neutralized, the Hoosier offense found themselves trying to score in other ways more than usual. While the offense tried to figure things out, the defense did a pretty good job challenging a talented offense. Although the defense had its moments, rebounding is an area that needs to improve for the team.

“We didn’t do a good enough job [rebounding],” Moren said. “We got to be much better in order to beat a team like Stanford. You can’t give up that many offensive rebounds.”

Haley Jones, one of the star guards for the Cardinal, began to figure her game out on the offensive end. Making a couple of midrange jump shots and using some crafty dribble moves to get to the basket, Jones helped keep the Cardinal lead over a Hoosier team that was gaining a bit of momentum on offense. With Indiana being down three points at the end of the third quarter, this had all the makings of an instant classic in the Bahamas. 

Although it wasn’t a very exciting opening stretch of the final quarter offensively, the two teams went back and forth and kept the momentum even on both sides. A positive sign for Indiana is that the Hoosiers seemed to settle inside and get some more layups than they had earlier in the game. But like they had all game, it felt like the Cardinal had an answer offensively once Indiana got going. 

That was until the Cardinal went on a quick 6-0 run in just 30 seconds to put Stanford up eight with two minutes left. Just about everyone thought that two free throws from Hull would seal the deal—except the Hoosiers. Indiana erased an 8-point Cardinal lead in just 1:40, thanks to some great shooting from Cardano-Hillary. The team even had a couple opportunities to win, but Berger missing free throws and a Patberg missed 3-pointer, the Hoosiers took their first loss of the season. For the team, despite the loss, Patberg said they’re happy the effort was there.

“We’re disappointed with how we played, but our fight was there,” Patberg said. “They made their run in the first quarter, and when they tried to make their run in the second half we had answers. So it gives us confidence that we can play with some of the best teams in the country.”

Indiana now falls to 4-1 on the season, with a chance to bounce back in just a couple days. The Hoosiers take on the Miami Hurricanes on Sunday night in the Bahamas, and that game will be no pushover. The Hurricanes have a very gritty team that defends at a high level. Indiana cannot afford to have shooting woes like they did tonight if they want to hop back into the win column.

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