Defense carries IU to WNIT round of 16 win


Senior guard Alexis Gassion blocks a SMU shot attempt on Thursday in Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall. Gassion had eight points, seven rebounds and nine assists to help lead the Hoosiers to a 64-44 win over the Mustangs in the third round of the WNIT. Bobby Goddin and Bobby Goddin

IU women's basketball continued rolling through the Women's National Invitation Tournament on Thursday night by relying on defense for the third game in a row.

The Hoosiers haven't allowed more than 58 points in a game on their run to the quarterfinals of the 64-team WNIT, but Thursday's game in Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall featured a lockdown performance that has rarely been seen from IU's defense this season. 

Playing SMU, the Hoosiers were willing to let the Mustangs shoot themselves out of the game, and IU coasted to a 64-44 win while holding its opponent to just 28.3-percent shooting.

SMU is a notoriously low-scoring and slow-paced squad and entered the game averaging fewer than 60 points per game, which caused IU to come out of the gates sluggish as well.

IU Coach Teri Moren said despite the fact her team played down to the level of the Mustangs in the early going, the Hoosiers' defense was consistently sharp.

"What I was really, really happy with, though, was defensively," Moren said. "I thought we guarded really well. I thought we were playing tremendous."

Moren said the discussions during timeouts barely mentioned the defensive side of the ball. Her team knew exactly what to do and when to do it, she said. In the first half in particular, it showed.

SMU came out of the gates with a dismal 1-15 shooting performance in the first quarter and scored just four points in the opening frame. The Mustangs didn't make a 3-pointer until the final frame, when they unleashed a barrage of four consecutive 3s that made the game interesting, but only slightly. 

IU never led by fewer than double digits in the second half and continued to pressure SMU both in and out of the paint. Four Mustangs are listed at six-foot-two or taller, and junior forward and leading scorer Alicia Froling is one of them, so the Hoosiers relied on a trio of forwards to stop the SMU post players.

Senior Jenn Anderson, sophomore Kym Royster and freshman Darby Foresman each played at least 16 minutes in the victory and held SMU's three tallest players to just 20 points combined. Moren said she was impressed with the way her team played in the low block.

"Those are some big kids, so you were going to give up some points, but I thought for the most part, we kept Froling pretty well in check throughout the night," Moren said.

The 44 points allowed were the third-fewest in any game this season for IU, which gave up just 37 in a win against Presbyterian in November and 38 in a February victory against Northwestern.

Even with SMU's four made 3-pointers that sparked a 17-point fourth quarter, IU was able to keep its opponents at bay by matching the tempo in a fast-paced final period. Both teams produced their highest scoring totals in the fourth. The Hoosiers put up 21 points to put the game away for good.

Senior guard Alexis Gassion said IU followed the gameplan well against SMU and came into the game knowing the Mustangs would likely do most of their damage down low. 

When the Villanova Wildcats visit the Hoosiers at 2 p.m. Sunday for a quarterfinal matchup, expect IU to continue to rely on its defense.

"That really boosts our self-esteem," Gassion said. "Defense leads to offense, so once we play that great defense that leads into our transition."

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