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Gulbe's play crucial as Indiana prepares for in-state rival Purdue

Indiana’s hopes of earning a Big Ten title and possibly a top-four seed in the NCAA tournament were in serious question until the final buzzer sounded on Thursday night versus Wisconsin. With 14.2 seconds remaining and a tied score, Aleksa Gulbe slid over to take a charge as Sydney Hilliard drove the lane.

Aleksa Gulbe. (Ross Abdellah/HN)

The play was quite literally a game saver for Indiana, giving IU five more minutes of life in overtime following a Jaelynn Penn missed three at the buzzer. Ali Patberg and Grace Berger were the stars in overtime, but without Gulbe drawing a charge on Hilliard, Indiana’s guard duo would have never had the chance to complete the comeback. 

Gulbe’s importance doesn’t stop here, though. Indiana now gets a chance to host rival Purdue on Monday and will need game-changing plays like Gulbe’s versus Wisconsin in order to secure another huge conference win.

Gulbe will likely draw the matchup with the Boilers' Ae’Rianna Harris, who led the Boilermakers with 15 points in the first game between these two teams. Harris is tied for the team lead with 13 points per game and is first in rebounds with 8.6 per game. 

Indiana’s forwards, Gulbe and Mackenzie Holmes, have struggled throughout the season staying out of foul trouble, which will be even more important guarding a player like Harris. To win this matchup down low, drawing fouls on Harris will obviously be crucial. Holmes was able to damage from the free-throw line versus Wisconsin, drawing 10 fouls and shooting 11-for-13. 

Looking at the backcourt, Purdue’s offense runs through the duo of Karissa McLaughlin and Dominique Oden. Indiana’s defense did a great job against these two in the first matchup of the season, holding McLaughlin and Oden to six points each — about half their season average. 

McLaughlin and Oden shoot 32 and 38 percent from three, respectively, but were a combined 0-for-7 against IU on Jan. 10. Purdue plays a similarly deep rotation to Indiana, but Harris, McLauglin and Oden are by far the team’s biggest scoring threats. The three have each made over twice the amount of field goals as anyone else on the team.

For Indiana, a win on Monday is all about getting off to a quick start. Playing on the road in an environment like Mackey Arena is always difficult, but Indiana cannot afford to get down early like they did versus Wisconsin. The 

The Hoosiers have struggled recently in the first quarter, trailing 11-2 early on against Northwestern, and 18-2 versus Wisconsin. A quick start for Indiana would mean winning the transition game early on and knocking down outside shots. The Hoosiers have seemed to slow the pace in recent games, with only two fast break points versus Wisconsin and six versus Minnesota. Running in transition and getting easy baskets can help Indiana calm down the Purdue crowd and control the pace of the game. 

Similar to Indiana’s lack of fast break points has been its recent 3-point shooting. Before exploding for three 3-pointers in overtime versus Wisconsin, Indiana was just 6-for-24 in the first four quarters. In the team’s three most recent losses, the Hoosiers shot 6-for-28 from three at Iowa, 2-for-8 versus Northwestern and 1-for-8 at Maryland. Finding the hot hand from three will be absolutely vital for Indiana’s hopes of getting a road win in conference at 6 p.m. Monday.

Indiana also announced on Friday that Bendu Yeaney will be entering the transfer portal. Yeaney spent most of this season trying to recover from a torn Achilles she suffered in the team’s NCAA tournament loss last season. 

In the six games she did play, Yeaney clearly wasn’t the same, averaging just 2.5 points. Last season, Yeaney typically guarded the team’s best offensive player, and going forward, the Hoosiers will surely miss her toughness on the court. In her statement, Yeaney said she will continue her collegiate career closer to home.

“The health of one of my immediate family members has heightened my desire to be closer to the west coast,” she said.

Moving forward without Yeaney, a win over Purdue on Monday keeps Indiana in the mix for the regular season Big Ten title. It would also set up a massive home game next Thursday versus Maryland, who Indiana trails by one game in the Big Ten race.

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