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'They depend on me to stop their best player': Bendu Yeaney's lockdown defense helps Hoosiers earn win

INDIANAPOLIS -- Before every game, IU sophomore guard Bendu Yeaney looks at the stat sheet to find out how many points per game her defensive assignment averages.

Yeaney’s goal from then on? Hold that player under her average. Thursday night she did just that against Minnesota guard Kenisha Bell. She came in averaging just less than 19 points per game and was held to 15 points on 5-of-23 (22 percent) shooting Thursday night.

It was a big reason why the tenth-seeded Hoosiers took down the seventh-seeded Golden Gophers, 66-58. Their top scorer couldn’t get going and Indiana avenged its loss from February 6.

“That was my goal, to hold (Bell) under her scoring average and lock her down,” Yeaney said. “They depend on me to stop their best player, so that’s what I try to do.”

The frustration was evident on Bell’s face. Of her 15 points, four came from the free throw line and she made just one 3-pointer. She was forced into taking tough shots all game long, and Yeaney was the reason for that. And that’s nothing new for Indiana’s top defender.

But when the Big Ten all-defense team was released earlier this week, Yeaney’s name wasn’t found. Nonetheless, Yeaney has been the go-to defender for the Hoosiers all year long and will continue to get the opponent’s top guard-matchup. As Ali Patberg put it, who finished with a team high 20 points, that defense turns into good offense for the team.

“When we’re executing defensively, I think our offense follows,” Patberg said. “She was awesome. Kenisha Bell is an amazing player and Bendu defended her really well. She made her shoot tough shots, that was the game plan and she did an awesome job at it.”

But according to IU coach Teri Moren, while Yeaney did a stellar job defending, she liked the entire team’s defensive effort. The Hoosiers were playing a lot of help defense and packing the paint in order to make the Gophers beat them from the outside.

That plan worked as Minnesota shot just 1-of-15 from behind the arc. The other part of the plan was to not let the Gophers get to the foul line, as they average close to 23 free throw attempts per game.

“The key was not to foul,” Moren said. “We did a much better job in the second half than I think we did in the first, but yes, we were trying to – we call it ‘wall up.’ Bring as many defenders as we could just to not make it easy for Bell to get to the basket.”

With the win, the Hoosiers have earned a spot in the Big Ten Tournament quarterfinals to face the second-seeded Iowa Hawkeyes, a team they have already beaten. But as Moren said, there is no formula for how to guard Big Ten player of the year Megan Gustafson. It might have to be another team defense type of night.

Yeaney may not get that matchup due to Gustafson being a frontcourt player, but whomever she does end up guarding won’t have an easy time on offense. And you know in the 24 hours leading up to Friday’s game, Yeaney will find out her assignment and see how much she averages.

“If their best player scores under their career average, then I know I did a good job,” Yeaney said.

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