Coming off of a statement stomping of No. 6 North Carolina three nights ago, Indiana women’s basketball opened up conference play on Sunday afternoon against Illinois.
Illinois was awful last season, going 7-20 overall, winning just once in the Big Ten. In the only meeting last season, Indiana pummeled the Illini on their own floor, winning by 32.
It seemed Indiana was destined to cruise past their border rivals, but it was the exact opposite. Illinois fought tooth and nail, playing to their 7-1 record and looking like a team playing under a new head coach. Makira Cook had a career-high 33 points for the Illini, but it wasn’t enough as the Hoosiers came away on top, 65-61.
Here are my three quick takeaways from Sunday:
Indiana came through in the first close game of the season
Who would have thought that the Illinois Fighting Illini would prove to be the trickiest test for the Hoosiers this season.
Despite trailing by as much as 14 points in the first quarter, they clawed their way back to eventually take a four point lead in the second half. Illinois would lead for the majority of the fourth quarter, but Indiana would take the lead courtesy of layups from Mackenzie Holmes and free throws from Sydney Parrish to see the game out.
Although there couldn’t be a clutch Grace Berger bucket like we saw countless times last season, there was just enough scoring to get past the finish line.
Rebounding was a huge reason for the scoring swing
The first two quarters were like night and day on the glass. Both teams grabbed seven rebounds in the first ten minutes, but Illinois dominated the rebounding department in the second quarter, 15-5, including 5-0 on the offensive glass. This ignited the Illini offense to 21 second quarter points off 53% shooting to trail by just two at the break. For reference, Illinois shot just 31% in the first quarter
“We have to get that cleaned up as we move forward,” head coach Teri Moren acknowledged afterwards.
The starters are going to be playing a lot more minutes
With Berger’s absence, Indiana’s starting five are going to log a lot of minutes, similar to what we saw the majority of last season, when the starters would all play north of 32 minutes. On Sunday, four of five starters played over 35 minutes, with freshman Yarden Garzon being the exception considering she was in early foul trouble.
The bench only mustered two points, and although Garzon and Scalia combined for just 15 points, Scalia’s line included a lot of sixes: Six points, six rebounds, six assists - enough to make up for her 0-5 performance from beyond the arc.
Alyssa Geary was also out with an ankle injury, and with Berger and Kiandra Browne expected to miss significant time with injuries, expect the starters to play an average of half an hour moving forward. Moren admitted there is still a “learning curve” when playing without Berger.
The team knows that there is a target on their backs given their ranking, and understands that everyone will be coming after them once the schedule turns to only conference games at the end of the calendar year.
Next up for Indiana: Penn State on Thursday in Happy Valley. The Nittany Lions are another team that finished in the bottom third of the Big Ten last season but have looked a lot better already in the non-con. PSU is 7-2 overall and lost its Big Ten opener to Minnesota, 98-96 in 2OT.