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Indiana begins season with victory over Butler behind Nicole Cardaño-Hillary's career night

An Indiana career-high 29 points and seven 3s from Nicole Cardaño-Hillary propelled Indiana to an 86-63 win in the season opener against Butler at Hinkle Fieldhouse. 

Outscoring the Bulldogs 26-17 in the fourth quarter, it was similar to games in the past in a sense where the team plays a much better second half. In regards to Cardaño-Hillary’s career game, her teammates aren’t particularly surprised by this type of performance from her.

“I’m certainly not surprised,” Grace Berger said. “I’ve seen this plenty of times in practice and in games before. Every time she shoots I think it’s going in, and I know she’s very confident.”

A bit of a sloppy start for both teams made room for a low-scoring first couple of minutes. The two teams combined for seven turnovers in the first five minutes, which is expected in the first regular season game of the year for both teams. Butler’s tight on-ball defense made it difficult for Indiana to do what it does best — drive and kick to an open shooter. However, the Hoosiers’ one-two punch found a way to get some offense going about halfway through the first.

Berger and Mackenzie Holmes shouldered the load of the offense for almost the entirety of the first quarter, combining for nine of the 17 Hoosier points in the first quarter. Kiandra Browne also gave Indiana a nice boost off the bench while Holmes rested, as she had four key points while the Bulldogs attempted to make a run. With both teams shooting around 45 percent, it would be a battle of which offense can get going first in order to go 1-0 to start the season.

Indiana’s transition offense really helped the team get a little bit of breathing room early on in the second quarter. Cardaño-Hillary’s speed created problems for the Bulldog defense, as she had five quick points and helped her teammates get open looks offensively. However, Butler ended up closing the gap before the five-minute media timeout with some big baskets from their center Alex Richard. This forced IU head coach Teri Moren to put Holmes back in the game, as Richard’s size was too much for the undersized Browne. 

As soon as Butler began to cool down from the outside, Moren and company found their perfect time to strike. The Bulldogs went 1-for-7 from beyond the arc in the first 20 minutes of play, and Indiana capitalized on that with some big buckets in transition. Moving the ball around was also key for the entire first half, as the Hoosiers had 10 more assists than the Bulldogs. Indiana led Butler 43-32 at the half, and hoped to build on that in the final half of play. Moren was pleased with the team’s ability to share the ball Wednesday, as the Hoosiers would end with 24 total assists on the night.

“Our goal is 17 assists a game,” Moren said. “One of the things that made this group special a year ago, and what we will hold the group to, is that we share the ball. And I think that we will give up a good shot for a great shot. And that’s what I like about this team. They enjoy playing together, but they enjoy sharing the spotlight.”

Some fouls on Indiana made it hard for the team to pull away from Butler early in the second half. The Hoosiers had five quick fouls in just the first four minutes of the third quarter, as Butler cut the lead to single digits. However, some big stops in the half-court down the stretch helped the Hoosiers get some opportunities on offense with some great passing in transition. Cardaño-Hillary was on fire from beyond the arc, as she remained perfect from long distance with two more 3s.

Alex Richard got Butler back into the game, after Indiana’s largest lead was 16. Her elite rebounding and variety of post moves made it tough for Holmes and Browne to stop her from scoring. With outside shooting being their main source of scoring in the third, the Hoosiers knew they needed to mix it up entering what was shaping to be a dogfight of a fourth quarter.

And that’s exactly what happened in the opening stages of the fourth, as the Hoosiers started off on an 8-2 run in the first two minutes. Berger, Holmes and Cardaño-Hillary all got their fair share of buckets, as they worked the ball into the paint to get higher-percentage shots to fall. From this point on, it seemed as though the Hoosiers had found their offensive groove and it felt like Butler couldn’t do anything about it.

Indiana put on a show in the final few minutes for the Hoosier faithful who made the trip up to Indianapolis. Berger and Cardaño-Hillary got open shots to fall and the defense strung multiple stops together. As Moren emptied her bench and the Indiana fans gave the starters a standing ovation, the Hoosiers kept their high energy play en route to an 86-63 win over the Butler Bulldogs in Hinkle Fieldhouse. Moren saluted a tough and gritty opponent they faced Wednesday.

“Give Butler credit,” Moren said. “They put pressure on us to sit down and guard them one on one, which we did not do a good job of. But then we also had problems tonight with their post players. We just continued to challenge our players, whether it was halftime or in timeouts. And one of the nice things about a veteran group is they work hard and know what to do, but they just have to execute.” 

Indiana starts off the season 1-0 with Wednesday’s win, but IU’s next game will be quite the challenge. The Hoosiers host the No. 13-ranked Kentucky Wildcats this Sunday at 5 p.m. at Assembly Hall. The Wildcats defeated IU in a heartbreaker last year, so revenge could be on the mind of this team as they aim for what would be the first signature win of the season.

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