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Stifling Indiana defense holds Southern Illinois to single-digits in first half as Hoosiers roll to victory

In the finale of the non-conference portion of No. 8 Indiana’s schedule, the Hoosiers came out victorious 70-37 against the Southern Illinois Salukis. Mackenzie Holmes and Grace Berger led the charge for Indiana offensively, each scoring 18 points. Indiana ends the non-conference part of their schedule with an 8-2 record, and head coach Teri Moren said this will serve a great purpose when the team resumes Big Ten play.

“We certainly have those would’ve, could’ve should've down in the Bahamas against Stanford and then NC State here,” Moren said. “[But also] playing Kentucky, going on the road and playing a really good Quinnipiac team, and teams like Southern Illinois and Fairfield. So we’ve seen so many different looks and actions that we’ve had to plan for.” 

After getting some more time to prepare for this game due to the cancellation of the Wright State game, it seemed as though Indiana did not miss a beat. Nicole Cardaño-Hillary and Berger opened up the game nicely with some aggressive drives to the basket. Followed by this was some nice work in transition from Berger along with Kiandra Browne. These quick baskets propelled Indiana to a scorching 8-0 start, forcing a Southern Illinois timeout.

While the Hoosiers remained solid offensively, the defense was the story of the first quarter. Indiana held the Salukis to only four points in the first quarter, marking it the lowest they’ve held an opponent in a quarter this season. IU was making Southern Illinois very uncomfortable on the offensive end, forcing them into six turnovers in the quarter while also making them take some wild shots. A Browne charge to end the quarter capped off an excellent defensive first 10 minutes of play, as well as firing up the Hoosier bench.

Indiana started off the second by working the ball in to Holmes inside. Her size seemed to be too much for the Salukis, as she got many second-chance points thanks to her ability to rebound the ball. When the Hoosiers weren’t getting the ball inside, they were excellent scoring in transition. The speed of Cardaño-Hillary finding Holmes and Berger at the basket had Southern Illinois in a disarray defensively. 

For the Hoosiers, the defensive energy never disappeared, especially at the end of the first half. Thanks to some great perimeter defense from Berger, Cardaño-Hillary, and Ali Patberg, Indiana was able to wear down the Salukis on offense. Southern Illinois is solid offensively, so for Indiana to hold them to a season-low eight points in the first half is quite the impressive feat. Moren said she is proud with the way her defense has been playing these past couple of games.

“Early on, I think our offense was ahead of our defense,” Moren said. “I think now we’ve caught up and also exceeded our offense a little bit. It’s experience, it’s reps, it’s playing different styles with our non-conference schedule, learning how to play different coverages and just becoming better. But it also requires a group of individuals who are interested in guarding, and interested in that side of the ball. So I think our guys feel that if we are sound defensively, we’re always going to give ourselves a chance.”

Southern Illinois got a little more offensive going to start off the second half. They scored the same amount of points in the first five minutes of the third quarter as they did the entire first half, thanks to getting some open layups and 3-pointers to fall. Indiana was able to do the same. Berger’s slashing ability proved to be deadly to the Saluki defense, which opened up more shots for Holmes and others down the stretch.

The Hoosiers did a nice job of moving the ball down the stretch and passing to open teammates. Patberg had some great passes while driving to the basket, or even just finding an open teammate further down the floor. Passing the ball like they did put Southern Illinois in a difficult position to defend, as they have held some great teams to not a lot of points scored this season. As Berger hit a jump shot to beat the buzzer, IU went into the fourth quarter riding a comfortable 36-point lead. For the team, Patberg’s ability to get her teammates looks is something special 

“I think all of our guards are very unselfish,” Holmes said. “They’re always looking to make the next play. I think it’s just how we practice, and Ali is just an unselfish player. She had some great looks tonight, as well as all of the guards.”

Moren emptied her bench for the fourth quarter, but this didn’t stop the Hoosiers from playing great defense. Kaitlin Peterson did a phenomenal job of staying with some crafty Saluki guards and forcing them into some uncharacteristic mistakes. Mona Zaric and Arielle Wisne also did a great job on the interior end of rebounding the ball to make sure Southern Illinois did not get any second-chance points.

The Hoosiers look forward to their third conference game in Piscataway where they will take on the Rutgers Scarlet Knights. Rutgers welcomes some new faces to their team this year after losing both star players from last year in Arella Guirantes and Diamond Johnson. Nonetheless, it seems as though the Scarlet Knights have started to get on a roll, winning three games in a row before resuming their conference play as well. It should be quite the defensive battle at Jersey Mike's Arena, as these are two of the best defenses in the conference.

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