It was clear from the start that beating the No. 4-ranked Louisville Cardinals would be a daunting task for the IU women’s basketball team.
When Louisville entered the court for the opening tip on Thursday night in Bloomington with a starting lineup featuring three players six feet or taller, the Cardinals were more than physically imposing compared to IU’s smaller, guard-filled lineup.
Even though the Hoosiers would eventually fall 72-59 to the Cardinals, IU would not go down without a fight.
In addition to their massive size, Louisville also brought the most athletic and physical defense IU has faced all year.
Anytime Louisville scored, the Cardinals instantly matched up the Hoosiers with a full-court, man-to-man press defense. In turn, it forced the Hoosiers’ usually fast-paced offense to slow down. IU had to turn to the half-court for offense, a situation in which Louisville’s bigs were able to clog the paint.
IU’s usual leading scorer, senior point guard Tyra Buss, was hounded all the way up the court by a pair of tenacious Cardinal guards every time she handled the ball. With junior Arica Carter and freshman Dana Evans in her face all night, Buss was held to a season-low 12 points.
“We knew it was going to be a physical game,” Buss said. “I knew they were going to pick me up full-court all game so I just had to keep my composure and take care of the ball.”
Despite all the physical gifts of its players, Louisville may have held its largest advantage over IU in the depth department. The Cardinals were able to roll out different lineups all night with a seemingly revolving door of reserves and could substitute four new players whenever they wanted to.
Meanwhile, the Hoosiers were forced to play all their starters at least 36 of the possible 40 minutes each, while their busiest reserve, freshman guard Keyanna Warthen, played only eight minutes.
Despite her starters being exhausted by the end of the game, IU Coach Teri Moren said the group’s fight throughout the contest was what kept IU alive.
“I really liked the way we battled,” Moren said. “We knew Louisville was going to try to out-physical and out-tough us and one of our keys was to not let that happen.”
Of those starters, it was two freshman guards who were able to do all the things the Hoosiers needed to stay competitive until the end.
Jaelynn Penn and Bendu Yeaney’s athleticism were put on display against Louisville.
Penn was the big contributor on the night as she stepped up on both ends of the floor. By the time it was evident Louisville was not going to let Buss get any open looks, Penn became IU’s biggest offensive threat.
She hit three 3-pointers on her way to being IU's leading scorer with 17 points, to go along with five rebounds and three assists. On defense, she constantly got a hand up in shooters’ faces and made some big stops.
“Of course you’re thinking about playing the number-four team in the country,” Penn said. “You just have to go out and do what you know you can do.”
While Penn’s night stood out on the box score, Moren said their defensive player of the game was Yeaney, who held Louisville’s leading scorer, junior Asia Durr, to just nine points
With IU’s guards being able to keep up athletically, Louisville’s size proved to be the key to the victory. The Cardinals outscored IU in the paint 54-30 behind senior forward Myisha Hines-Allen’s 25 points and 12 rebounds.
Despite the loss, Moren said the preparation and energy was still there from her team and the tough matchup was a good growing experience for her younger players.
“We just didn’t have an answer for Hines-Allen in the paint," Moren said. "Some of those easy looks at the bucket were from defensive miscues where we didn’t rotate or drop. It’s a learning opportunity for our young kids and we’ll be better because of it.”
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