One team is leaving Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall on Wednesday night with its first loss of the season.
The Butler Bulldogs, who are 6-0 this season, will travel one hour south to Bloomington to take on the 7-0 Hoosiers.
For IU Coach Teri Moren, these are the games she wanted in the nonconference schedule. Filling the November and December slate of games with easy teams won’t prepare her squad for the tough, resilient Big Ten teams that loom ahead.
“This is the way we intentionally designed our nonconference schedule,” Moren said after IU’s 67-65 win at UCLA.
She said they wanted games at home, but also wanted to go play in tough environments like UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion, which had seen its Bruins lose just three games over the last three seasons.
With 3,511 fans in attendance, the largest crowd IU has played in front of this season, the Hoosiers handed the Bruins its fourth home loss in those three seasons.
Just three days prior, IU beat Wake Forest on the road by 14 and has beat Milwaukee and Florida at home this season.
Now, perhaps the biggest test comes to town Wednesday night with Butler.
The Bulldogs have outscored their opponents this year by a total of 169 points and have only played one game in which they didn’t win by double figures — a 58-56 win over Northern Illinois on Nov. 25.
But Wednesday night will be the first time this season Butler will play on the road. Like the Pauley Pavilion, Assembly Hall is known for drawing good crowds. In the four home games this season, the average attendance has been 3,279, and with an in-state opponent like Butler, don’t be surprised if that number rises.
As raucous as the environment can get around Assembly Hall, IU’s defense on Branch McCracken Court will be in for a tough matchup against a dynamic Butler offense that has four players averaging in double figures.
The leader of that group is Whitney Jennings, averaging 15 points per game. After scoring just four points in the season-opener, the 5-foot-5-inch senior hasn’t seen a number in the single digits since, putting up 20 points in the team’s most recent win against Ball State. Last season, Jennings led the team in points and assists, and her 539 total points were fourth highest all-time in Butler history for points in a single season.
Jennings’ companions in the backcourt consist of Michelle Weaver, 10 points per game, and Kristen Spolyar, 13.7 points per game. All three have posted 15 or more points in at least one this season, and all three can score in a variety of ways.
Luckily for IU, its trio of guards has been on fire as of late. Junior guard Ali Patberg, along with sophomore guards Jaelynn Penn and Bendu Yeaney, have been the igniting force for the Hoosiers so far.
Patberg and Penn each added 17 points against UCLA, while each dropping 30 and 25, respectively, in the prior game against Wake Forest. Yeaney hasn’t been putting up the scoring numbers like her counterparts, but she has been the team’s most consistent and versatile defender. Yeaney is constantly assigned to the opponents’ best player and has been praised by Moren after each game for her job defensively.
IU’s freshman guard Grace Berger has also been a spark off the bench this year and will be able to fill in nicely whenever Penn, Patberg or Yeaney need a breather.
It will be a battle of the backcourt Wednesday night, but both team’s bigs are also capable of posting big numbers and altering shots defensively.
The Hoosiers and Bulldogs are evenly matched, but one will have to receive a blemish on their record after the ball tips at 7 p.m.
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