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A win is a win, but Indiana has a lot of work to do before March

Nebraska’s Nicea Eliely drove the lane with 19 seconds left, down two. Once down 20 after the first quarter and 25 at one point in the second, the Cornhuskers were about to complete the comeback. But, as Indiana fans have seen so often this year, Brenna Wise rotated over to take a charge that kept Indiana ahead for good.

“That is not uncommon for [Wise],” Indiana head coach Teri Moren said. “She makes timely plays, but is always willing to get in there and give up her body. She is selfless and all about her team. I wasn’t surprised she was the one that rotated over and took that.”

Brenna Wise scored 10 points in Indiana's road win over Nebraska. (Ross Abdellah/HN)

The No. 18 Hoosiers cruised into halftime with a 17-point lead thanks to a quick 12-0 start to the game. The Hoosiers only scored 31 points in the final three quarters of the game, but luckily for Indiana, it built a big enough lead to withstand a fierce Cornhusker comeback and hang on to win, 57-53. 

“We knew that in spite of us having a great first quarter that they were not going to go away quietly,” Moren said. “That’s a really good basketball team. On a day that we didn’t shoot it very well, we made just enough plays to get out of here with a win today.”

The way Indiana came out and dominated the first quarter looked like the Indiana team that was running opponents out of the gym at the start of Big Ten play. Just four first-half turnovers and a hot start from beyond the arc in the first 12 minutes made it seem like the Hoosiers were past problems that have plagued them recently.

They weren't. By the start of the second half, it was clear that missed 3-point shots, turnovers and interior defense were just caught in some traffic on the nearly 10-hour trip from Bloomington to Lincoln. 

The Hoosiers committed three turnovers in the first two minutes of the fourth quarter. Nebraska’s center Kate Cain had her way in the second half, leading Nebraska with 12 points, five blocks and four rebounds. Cain largely neutralized the Indiana forwards, as Aleksa Gulbe and Mackenzie Holmes finished with just seven points each and dealt with foul trouble.

“We didn’t have some answers in the third and fourth with their post play,” Moren said. “I thought they got the ball inside way too easily, which means our ball pressure wasn’t what it needed to be.”

Indiana also continued to struggle from beyond the arc, shooting 4-for-15. All four made 3-pointers came in the first half, which forced them to rely on its defense to make big plays down the stretch. The Hoosiers’ defensive versatility was especially important when Wise took the charge, as Moren explained postgame that Indiana switched all ball screens one through five.

Nevertheless, any win in the Big Ten, especially on the road is big, according to Moren. That’s exactly how Indiana should remember this game. Aside from the first quarter that looked like the November Hoosiers, this is a game that Indiana will take the win, but quickly move on from.

No single Hoosier stood out, but it was a collective effort to pull out this road win. Jaelynn Penn led the way with 14 points and Ali Patberg and Brenna Wise each had 10. It was an odd game for Grace Berger who only shot 3-for-13 from the field, but grabbed 15 rebounds, a season high.

This win should remind fans that while a regular season Big Ten title and top-four seed in the NCAA tournament might be out of reach after losing to Maryland on Feb. 6, this Indiana team is not finished. The Hoosiers have a favorable schedule the rest of the way, which only includes teams outside of the top-five of the Big Ten rankings. While it will have to play on the road for four of its last six games, Indiana hasn’t seemed too fazed, holding a 6-2 record away from Assembly Hall.

The Hoosiers will continue their road trip on Feb. 13 when they take on Illinois, who has struggled mightily with a 1-10 record in the Big Ten. While wins in the Big Ten won’t get Indiana back in the conference title race, Moren and the Hoosiers know there is something bigger to play for down the road.

The bottom line is we know this team will be playing in March. Sometimes the most dangerous teams in the NCAA tournament are those playing with the most momentum, and that is exactly how Indiana should treat the last six games of conference play.

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