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Three takeaways from Indiana's dominant win over Penn State

The No. 15 Indiana women’s basketball team snapped Penn State’s four-game winning streak thanks to yet another triple-double from Grace Berger. Berger’s 17 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists now mark her third triple-double of the season, which are the only three in program history.

With this win, Indiana becomes the first team in the Big Ten to win 10 conference games, although the Hoosiers still trail Maryland (9-1) for first place. Let’s get into the three biggest takeaways from Indiana’s 90-65 win versus Penn State on Wednesday.

Cardaño-Hillary’s importance skyrockets with loss of Penn

Jaelynn Penn decided to opt out of the rest of the 2020-2021 season on Feb. 7, leaving a hole to fill in the Indiana offense. Penn was averaging 9.5 points per game, five rebounds and started 10 of 11 games for the Hoosiers.

While Penn has taken a step down from beyond the arc this season, shooting just 27 percent from three, Indiana will miss her experience and constant threat to score. Luckily for Indiana, Nicole Cardaño-Hillary transferred in this season after spending the beginning of her career at George Mason.

Cardaño-Hillary left George Mason as the program’s all-time leading scorer. And without Penn, Indiana will need to see improved play from her. Cardaño-Hillary struggled with her shot at times versus Penn State, shooting 3-for-12 from the field and 2-for-6 from beyond the arc. While she was the only Indiana starter in single-digit scoring, the Hoosiers will begin to rely on her more heavily as she enters the starting lineup. 

Cardaño-Hillary’s skillset benefits Indiana because with Ali Patberg, Berger and Cardaño-Hillary, the Hoosiers have three capable guards that can bring the ball up and distribute.

Where has the depth gone?

Throughout Indiana’s 2019-2020 season, the Hoosiers benefitted from a variety of players being able to score off the bench. But after the transfers of Bendu Yeaney, Jorie Allen, the graduation of Brenna Wise, an injury sidelining Kiandra Brown on Wednesday and Penn opting out, all of a sudden Teri Moren plays a much smaller rotation.

Indiana defeated Iowa on Feb. 7 by playing just five players double-digit minutes. All five Indiana starters played at least 33 minutes in that game, and Chloe Moore-McNeil played the most minutes off the bench with eight. 

The story was very similar Wednesday, too, as each starter played at least 24 of the first 30 minutes of the game. Indiana relied almost exclusively on its starters for offensive production. 

Entering the fourth quarter with a 14-point lead, Warthen’s three was the only contribution off the bench. She would hit another three in the fourth quarter, but Danielle Patterson’s two points was the only other bench contribution on Wednesday. 

Moving forward, it will be crucial for a player such as Moore-McNeil, Patterson, Warthen or Kiandra Brown to step up as a consistent contributor off the bench. In Indiana’s win over Michigan State on Jan. 31, Patberg pulled Brown aside to tell her how much Indiana needs her energy off the bench, and improved play from her would greatly benefit Indiana with the loss of Penn. 

Brown has been nursing a hip injury, but isn’t expected to miss a significant amount of time. 

IU contains Cash

Going into this game, the No. 1 player on the scouting report had to be Penn State’s senior forward Johnasia Cash. Cash won Big Ten Player of the Week last week, and leads the team, averaging 15.5 points and 9.3 rebounds.

But on Wednesday, the Hoosier forwards got the best of Cash. The defensive combination of Mackenzie Holmes and Aleksa Gulbe showed up in a big way, holding Cash to five points and nine rebounds on 2-for-11 shooting. The improved level of post defense has been the biggest sign of improvement from Holmes over two seasons at Indiana, and she kept Cash off balance for most of Wednesday’s game.

A key to Indiana’s defensive success throughout the past two seasons has simply been Gulbe’s ability to stay out of foul trouble. This puts less pressure on Holmes to carry the load inside, and keeps Indiana’s two most experienced forwards on the court for the majority of the game.

Gulbe picked up two fouls in the first half Wednesday, but avoided fouling the rest of the game. Gulbe scored seven points within the first five minutes of the third quarter, leading Indiana to a 26-11 third-quarter advantage. Holmes was her usual efficient self, scoring 25 points on 10-for-12 shooting and collecting seven rebounds.

Next up for Indiana is a game at Illinois, who is currently second to last in the Big Ten with a 1-10 record. This game tips off at 3 p.m. ET on Feb. 14 and can been viewed on BTN+. The Illini hold a 4-13 record overall, but won their most recent game versus Purdue 54-49.

Illinois enters the game as the second-lowest scoring team in the Big Ten behind Rutgers, who has played just five conference games. On paper this looks like an easy win for the Hoosiers, but steady improvement from Cardaño-Hillary and the Indiana bench are vital moving forward. 

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