Indiana head coach Teri Moren has said time and time again that her team hangs its hat on defense. And in the most important possession of Sunday's game, Moren chose to trust her defense. Ali Patberg had just sunk two free throws to cut the deficit to two points with 38 seconds remaining in regulation.
Instead of choosing to foul and extend the game, Indiana’s defense allowed Ohio State's Madison Greene to dribble out the entire shot clock. Greene began to drive the lane, but as the shot clock was winding down, she was forced to throw up an awkward mid-range floater that hit the backboard and went in. With this dagger from Greene, who scored 22 points, Ohio State claimed an 80-76 victory over Indiana.
Moren chose to trust her defense, which has helped the Hoosiers reach win No. 20 at the earliest point in a season in program history with a win last week. Moren explained that because she had a timeout left, she felt like there was enough time to score after Ohio State’s possession. But that is only true with a defensive stop.
“Our defense has been reliable throughout the season,” Moren said. “It has been really good at times and let’s face it, it’s a runner from 12 to 15 feet out that banks off the backboard and goes in. That’s tough luck on our part. Our kids played it the way they needed to. They contested it hard, it was a rushed shot, but the thing went down."
A poor, but familiar, finish
This game represents another double-digit lead that the Hoosiers have blown this season. Eerily similar to the loss Indiana suffered versus Northwestern in overtime on Jan. 16, Moren credits this loss to simply not being able to make shots down the stretch.
Ohio State finished the game making all 11 of its final 11 field goals. With the Buckeyes on fire down the stretch and Indiana making just one of its final seven field goals, basketball can become a game of simply making more shots than your opponent down the stretch.
Ali Patberg again led the way for the Hoosiers with 22 points, but Indiana had one of its least efficient games shooting the ball as a team. Jaelynn Penn scored 14 points, but was just 4-for-12 from the field. Berger was 4-for-11 from the field and was never able to find a true rhythm Sunday on offense. As a team, Indiana’s 3-point shooting woes continued versus Ohio State, shooting just 4-for-15 from beyond the arc.
While her numbers might not stick out on the scoreboard, Aleksa Gulbe played a quietly fantastic game. Gulbe finished with 14 points and five rebounds, but the majority of her damage came from the free-throw line. Gulbe drew seven fouls and finished 9-for-12 from the charity stripe.
“As we tell our kids, you either make the shot or get to the free-throw line,” Moren said. “[Gulbe] is being really aggressive not just offensively, but also rebounding the ball for us and she has been a great five-defender for us.”
Ohio State had an obvious height advantage down low, which has caused Indiana problems throughout the year. However, Gulbe was able to foul out Ohio State’s Dorka Juhasz, who finished with 13 points and eight rebounds, and also kept Aaliyah Patty in foul trouble for the majority of the game.
With Mackenzie Holmes being a non-factor throughout most of the game, scoring just seven points and grabbing one rebound, Gulbe stepped up in a big way, but it wasn’t enough to lead Indiana to a victory.
Energy from an unexpected place
With this loss, Indiana moves to 20-7 overall and actually has more home losses than road losses. Dropping to fourth in the Big Ten
rankings, there is a sense of urgency among this team that Moren talked about after the game. This urgency has come from a player many Indiana fans may not have expected: walk-on Grace Waggoner.
Waggoner was the first guard off the bench Sunday for the Hoosiers, ahead of regulars Keyanna Warthen and Chanel Wilson. While she only played three minutes and twenty seconds, the fact that she got in the game before Warthen and Wilson represents her hard work in practice.
“When we go to our bench and you give up an open three, Keyanna, then we are going to make an adjustment,” Moren said. “It is our job as coaches to put the players that are going to give us the best possible chance of winning games out on the floor.”
Moren explains that Waggoner’s long arms and athleticism make her valuable on the defensive end. Because of the hard work she has shown in practice, Moren decided to reward Waggoner with an opportunity she doesn’t often see.
“[Waggoner] has proven every single day in practice that she has been steady,” Moren said. “She has been sound, she pays attention, she wasn’t going to try to do anything offensively out of the ordinary, she is going to play within herself and she was going to make all of those hustle plays.”
Perhaps rewarding a walk-on with minutes like Waggoner played Sunday will light a fire under certain players on this Indiana team. If that’s what it will take to get this team to start playing like it did at the start of Big Ten play, we might see even more minutes for Waggoner moving forward.
Regardless of what it takes to motivate this team, the NCAA Tournament is approaching fast. The Hoosiers have nearly a week to prepare for a road matchup with Minnesota, who Indiana defeated 65-52 earlier in the season. For Moren, simply shooting the ball at a more efficient rate is crucial moving forward, but this will only change if the Hoosiers remain confident.
“It’s not going down for us right now,” Moren said. “But we have got to stay encouraged and stay confident that sooner or later that [ball] is going to find the bucket for our players.”