There was a lot of communication from everyone but the IU women’s basketball team in the first half of the Hoosiers’ contest against Western Kentucky on Friday night at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall.
The IU faithful in the stands clamored for the referees to stop calling touchy fouls on freshman guards Jaelynn Penn and Bendu Yeaney. IU Coach Teri Moren yelled vehemently from the sidelines to try and get her team to pick it up on defense.
Yet, the Hoosiers continued to let the Lady Toppers take advantage of their poor transition defense, as Western Kentucky converted a bevy of easy layups and wide-open 3-pointers on the break. The Hoosiers continued to be too slow recovering on each Western Kentucky pick and roll.
The Lady Toppers went into the locker room at halftime with a 36-31 lead. The Hoosiers needed a defensive adjustment fast.
“We weren’t getting back,” senior guard Tyra Buss said. “We were getting mixed up with what we were doing on the defensive end, especially in transition.”
IU came out in the third quarter and abandoned their usual one through four switch on defense. The new strategy was to fight through every screen and prevent getting too deep inside on the Western Kentucky guards in transition.
In a game that saw veteran forwards dominate offensively — senior Amanda Cahill had 15 points and 13 rebounds and junior Kym Royster had 17 points and six rebounds — the versatile guard trio of Buss, Penn and Yeaney proved to be vital to any success the Hoosiers had on defense.
Their on-ball defensive skills fit well in the plan to fight through screens.
“When you’re fighting over ball screens, you have to have a level of toughness,” Moren said. “That’s not a soft defense and those are freshmen out there that you’re challenging to fight for their teammates.”
Moren’s halftime modifications proved successful as they led to a third quarter in which the Hoosiers outscored Western Kentucky 29-13, to give them an 11-point lead heading into the final quarter.
It helped that IU caught fire on offense behind Royster’s nine points on 4-4 shooting in the period, but IU's defense was able to hold the Toppers to 4-13 (30.8 percent) shooting from the field and 0-4 from three.
This came after a first half in which Western Kentucky went 16-29 (55.2 percent) from the field and 4-9 (44.4 percent) from downtown.
The run proved to be the biggest stretch of the game for the Hoosiers on their way to a 73-71 victory that was capped off by Buss’ late layup with 2.7 seconds to go.
“The first half was just a communication thing,” Royster said. “Once we emphasized that at halftime, I think we did a much better job of that in the second half.”
For Moren, she said she was pleased with the way her players’ defensive communication held up while they were away from their bench with no coaches nearby on the sidelines to help for the entire half.
“The thing we talked about the most at halftime was if we were going to win the game, we had to go get it,” Moren said. “That was going to take not just execution but tremendous effort defensively while they’re away from our bench.”
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