Heading into its first road game of the season versus Florida, Indiana knew it would have to contain freshman Lavender Briggs. Before the contest, Briggs was averaging 13 points per game on 42 percent shooting from beyond the arc.
But Briggs was scratched from the lineup right before tipoff due to a high ankle sprain, forcing Indiana to switch its matchups. This late adjustment may have rattled some teams in their first road game, but Indiana head coach Teri Moren gives her players a lot of credit for being able to adapt on the fly.
Led by 23 points from Grace Berger, Indiana defeated Florida 73-49 in Gainesville. Berger was named Big Ten Player of the Week after her performance.
Brenna Wise followed Berger’s lead with 16 points and six rebounds, and Aleksa Gulbe, Jaelynn Penn and Chanel Wilson each scored eight points. The Hoosiers moved to 4-0 on the season, heading into multiple intriguing matchups in the Paradise Jam.
Indiana will now head to the Virgin Islands where it will take on No. 5 South Carolina, No. 2 Baylor and Washington State. A strong start to the season has Indiana ranked No. 17 in the AP Top 25 poll, but some serious questions concerning the team’s legitimacy will be answered at the Paradise Jam.
Will Indiana’s depth perform against top competition?
The biggest strength of this Indiana team has come through its ability to score in a variety of ways. Never needing to rely on one scorer to lead the offense, Moren typically plays a nine-player rotation. Players such as freshmen Mackenzie Holmes, Jorie Allen and Chanel Wilson each bring a distinctive skillset off the bench.
In IU's first four games, Moren has had the luxury of being able to try different lineups and rotations because of the depth of this team. Lineups with Gulbe and Holmes on the court at the same time give Indiana an advantage inside, while Ali Patberg and Wilson have shown to fit together nicely in the backcourt, bringing more 3-point shooting on the court.
But against some of the top teams in the country, the impact of Indiana’s bench players will be in question. Employing a team-centric approach, with good ball movement, could alleviate some of those concerns.
Moren has set a goal of at least 15 assists per game in order to get her team to focus on sharing the ball. Indiana has met this goal multiple times. Moren credits the team’s assist numbers to a willingness to share the ball between each member of the team.
“We always talk about making the easy play, making the right play, and our kids are understanding what the right play looks like and what the easy play is,” Moren said. “Give our kids credit because they are really unselfish.”
For Berger, the Indiana offense operates best when the ball moves.
“When we have multiple weapons and we know we have a lot of people on our team that can score,” Berger said. “We have a deep bench so when we share the ball, that’s when we think we are at our best.”
How will Indiana handle Lauren Cox and Aliyah Boston down low?
Baylor’s Lauren Cox and South Carolina’s Aliyah Boston will present major challenges in the post. Cox, a 6-foot-4 senior, is averaging 12 points and 10 rebounds per game. Boston is a 6-foot-5 freshman who is averaging 13.7 points and 7.5 rebounds per game and has blocked 24 shots this year.
Gulbe and Holmes will likely guard Cox and Boston in these two games. Staying out of foul trouble will be a point of emphasis, as Gulbe and Holmes have struggled with that lately. Against Jackson State, Gulbe committed three fouls and Holmes committed four.
Before the Jackson State game, Moren challenged her players to guard their opponent without fouling, move their feet, contest shots and not foul jump shooters. Moren was disappointed in her team’s effort guarding the ball against Jackson State and knows this will have to improve as competition improves.
“We were watching those ladies just go right past us and that is a pride thing,” Moren said. “That is a gritty thing… We have got to be able to guard so much better defensively.”
While these goals could apply to almost any game, defensive focus will be especially important in the post versus South Carolina and Baylor. Moren has said numerous times that Holmes is still raw defensively, but has seen improvements. Moren said Holmes tends to be in good position but needs to focus on keeping her hands straight up and not coming down on defenders.
Can Indiana continue to control the pace?
Using defense to create offense has been a focus of this Indiana squad all year. The Hoosiers scored 18 points on fast breaks against Florida.
Berger is leading the team with 12 steals this year, highlighted by her performance versus McKendree when she scored six of the team’s first eight points on steals that led to easy layups. Through the team’s first four games, Holmes had scored 52 points in 52 minutes of play. She credits this efficiency to running in transition to score easy baskets.
“One of the big things for me is running the floor,” Holmes said. “The guards do a really good job of finding me so I think if I keep running the floor and keep pushing the pace the guards will find me.”
It will be important to Indiana to set the tone offensively and not let its opponents control the pace. If Indiana can rebound well and immediately run in transition, it will create opportunities for easy points that may be hard to come by against good defenses that South Carolina and Baylor boast.
At the Paradise Jam, Indiana will first take on No. 5 South Carolina at 8 p.m. Thursday, followed by a matchup with No. 2 Baylor at 5:45 p.m. Friday and finishing with a matchup versus Washington State at 5:45 p.m. Saturday. All games can be streamed through FloHoops, or listeners can tune into WHCC 105.1 FM.