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Indiana women's basketball wins Big Ten opener over Illinois in overtime

The Hoosiers opened their Big Ten conference season with an 85-83 overtime victory over the Illinois Fighting Illini Friday night in Champaign, Illinois. Ali Patberg led the way for Indiana with 20 points and Jaelynn Penn added 19 points with five made threes.

IU got off to a solid start in the first quarter, but it was in the second when the Hoosiers started to pull away. They had as large as a 15-point lead with six minutes to go in the second quarter. However, Illinois was able to trim the deficit to nine heading into halftime.

The third quarter was all Illinois. The Illini won the quarter by 16 points, flipping a nine-point deficit to a seven-point lead. The Hoosiers stormed back in the fourth, forcing overtime and eventually pulling out the hard-fought win.

There was plenty to take away from the first Big Ten game of the season.

A win is a win

This game was nowhere close to pretty for the Hoosiers. They missed seven of their last eight shots and six of their last seven from beyond the arc. As a team, IU shot 39.7 percent from the field. Ultimately, these struggles caused them to go from up 15 halfway through the second quarter to down 11 with 8:04 to go in the fourth.

That’s when Teri Moren called a timeout.

After that, the Hoosiers went on an immediate 9-0 run to bring them within two. Eventually they forced overtime, where they held on to win the conference opener.

“This is a really good win for us, a road win for us,” Teri Moren said afterward. “It was not easy.”

It wasn’t easy, but it’s a road conference win for the Hoosiers, something they didn’t find a whole lot of last season. They won just three road games against Big Ten teams last season, and five in total. This win is already IU’s fourth road win of the season, plus two neutral site victories in Puerto Rico.

This isn’t the first time the Hoosiers have had to come back late in a game either. They overcame a big deficit against Grambling State in Puerto Rico, but were unable to finish the comeback late. This time was different.

“Give our kids credit though. They fought back when the odds were against us it seemed,” Moren said, “That’s one of the things that I love about my team is just how gritty and tough they are.”

The offensive glass and Aleksa Gulbe

The Hoosiers had a slight edge on the glass overall, but it was on the offensive glass where the Hoosiers took advantage.

IU finished with 17 offensive rebounds and 12 second-chance points. This was on full display late in both regulation and overtime, where Indiana grabbed rebounds and loose balls to keep possession and eventually get themselves on the free throw line.

The Hoosiers also have freshman forward Aleksa Gulbe back healthy and in the rotation after she worked her way back into the lineup in Puerto Rico. Gulbe finished with nine points and four rebounds, all on the offensive end. She also hit five-of-six free throws, including many down the stretch of regulation before she fouled out in overtime.

“I thought Aleksa Gulbe for us came in and she was really good on the offensive glass, got us some momentum, got us going," Moren said. "I thought that was the difference.”

A healthy Gulbe is a huge plus for IU. If she can play anywhere around 20 minutes a game and provide on the glass like she did Friday night, Indiana will be that much more versatile.

Learning to finish tight games

This win wasn’t a clinic on how to finish a close game. However, Indiana won and are learning how to win late. After the early close call against Milwaukee, this team was on the right side of a lot of lopsided contests. The UCLA game was the only other close game for the Hoosiers before their Puerto Rico trip.

In Puerto Rico, they dropped a close one to Grambling after surging from behind to get back into the game. They bounced back the next day and won a close one against South Dakota.

Friday night was another example that Indiana can win late. Whether it’s forcing turnovers and tough shots defensively or hitting free throws, Indiana has done what it takes to win tight games.

While they hit their free throws, they also got away with a late-game blunder, fouling Illinois’ Ali Andrews in the act of shooting. Fortunately for the Hoosiers she was inside the three-point arc and they got away with it.

“At that point it was just guard your man and don’t foul,” Moren said. “We’re lucky she wasn’t outside the three-point line.”

Nonetheless, the Hoosiers are now 12-1 and have won three one-possession games, two of which were on the road. After last season’s 0-3 start in the Big Ten, it’s a good sign to see an early Big Ten road win, no matter who it’s against.

The Hoosiers will be back in action on New Year’s Eve to take on Penn State in Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall.

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