Indiana looking to build off win against Penn State in preparing to face Caitlin Clark, Iowa

  • 01/12/2024 7:47 am in

Indiana women’s basketball’s game against Penn State was almost the epitome of a trap game. The Hoosiers were coming off a statement win over Nebraska on the road, riding a 12-game win streak and their long-awaited matchup with Iowa in Iowa City was looming.

A home game on a Wednesday night against a team with only one Big Ten win is one that, in the grand scheme of things, may seem insignificant. But the truth is, every conference game is just as important as the next. Wednesday night’s game showed that.

Indiana’s 75-67 win — which put them at 5-0 in conference play, the best start in program history — was full of grit, determination and intensity. However, it was also something of a reality check.

Entering the third quarter, the Hoosiers trailed 39-35. Throughout the first half, they had been consistently taken out of rhythm by the Nittany Lions, who played with a speed and intensity that put the Hoosiers in less-than-ideal situations on both ends of the floor. The problems came to a head when Indiana went down by nine points three minutes into the third quarter. Knowing her team needed a heart-to-heart, Teri Moren called a timeout.

“I had to get after them,” she said. “It was a gut-check time, but it was about pride and being able to go to our man better, but also being able and willing to help each other and guard the ball better.”

Chloe Moore-McNeil and Sydney Parrish also spoke up in the huddle, reminding their teammates what they were capable of and how important it was to play as a team. After that timeout, Indiana went on a 13-2 run to take a 49-47 lead. Parrish scored nine of those points and Moore-McNeil scored the layup to give the Hoosiers the lead.

“It’s one thing to come from me, but it’s more powerful I think when it comes from your peers,” Moren said. “I’m proud of our guys because they responded.”

While the rest of the game stayed close and competitive, Indiana buckled down and found a way to win mainly due to the efforts of Parrish, Moore-McNeil and Mackenzie Holmes. Holmes, named to the John R. Wooden Award Midseason Watchlist before the game, led the team with 21 points and recorded her fourth double-double of the season by bringing down 13 rebounds.

However, she also had four turnovers, marking the fifth straight game Holmes has turned the ball over at least four times. As a team, the Hoosiers totaled 20 turnovers — a statistic wholly representative of the problems they faced throughout the night.

“They made us really uncomfortable with their defense,” Moren said about Penn State. “And then they made us really uncomfortable as they just put their head down and continued to attack us all night.”

While Indiana’s difficulties led to a tense matchup Wednesday night, it also served as a learning experience. Nothing is ever easy in the Big Ten, and Indiana got a taste of that.

“No doubt it’s going to help us,” Moren said. “It’s a matter of we’ve got to watch ourselves on film, but it’s also a matter of what we have to do at practice. I’m a firm believer that what you emphasize in practice translates to the floor. So we’ve got to be able to work against our scout guys, and ask them to be more physical with us.”

In a way, it was the perfect time for a wake-up call for the Hoosiers. They got beaten in various ways multiple times by Penn State — even though they walked away with the win — and they don’t want that to happen again, especially against Iowa.

Indiana’s game in Iowa City on January 13 has been circled on calendars all around the basketball world, and for good reason. The top two teams in the Big Ten will face each other in one of the best college basketball environments, with two of the best players in the country and a lot on the line for everyone involved.

Both Indiana and Iowa are on 13-game win streaks. Both are ranked in the top 20 in the AP Poll, with Iowa at third and Indiana at 14th. Neither has lost a conference game. Iowa’s one loss was at home was to Kansas State November 16. Indiana’s one loss was on the road was to Stanford November 12.

And everyone remembers what happened the last time the Hoosiers played at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. It’s hard to forget a buzzer-beater 3-pointer from Caitlin Clark.

“It’s just two really great programs that have great players inside of both respective programs that look forward to this,” Moren said. “It’s become a rivalry.”

The Hoosiers and Hawkeyes are very familiar with each other, as players like Iowa’s Clark and Kate Martin and Indiana’s Holmes and Moore-McNeil have battled against each other for the past few seasons. In the last five games — dating back to February 2022 — Indiana has one win in February 2023 at Assembly Hall.

Iowa hasn’t always had an answer for Holmes, but Indiana hasn’t always had an answer for Clark. The two dominate all conversations about the game, and for good reason. It’s not that they’re necessarily unpredictable — everyone knows Holmes will play in the post and Clark will shoot 3-pointers. Instead, it’s that they’re so good that even when you know what they’re going to do, it’s difficult to stop them.

Moore-McNeil will likely be the primary defender on Clark; in the past, she’s been one of the most effective defenders against the prolific 3-point shooter. But Indiana’s greater focus will be preventing Iowa’s other scorers from getting hot.

“I don’t know that anyone has figured out how to guard (Caitlin),” Moren said. “(So it’s about) not allowing (other players) to be a part of scoring a lot of points because we know Caitlin is going to get hers.”

With two teams who are so familiar with each other, the key to the game is the mentality with which they approach the game. Indiana will come in as the underdog, playing to prove themselves and playing for pride. Wednesday night showed how much the presence and lack of that gritty yet prideful mentality can impact the game for the Hoosiers.

Only time will tell how Saturday’s game plays out. But with a game like Indiana’s against Penn State, which was full of learning opportunities, the Hoosiers are in a prime spot to take advantage of their underdog mentality and come out with a vengeance.

(Photo credit: IU Athletics)

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