After knocking down a corner 3-pointer for her first points in an IU women’s basketball uniform, Nicole Cardaño-Hillary let out a visible sigh of relief.
One minute later, the redshirt junior guard used her quickness to blow by a Nebraska defender on her way to an easy layup. The following possession, she pushed the ball and found senior guard Keyanna Warthen for a transition bucket. Cardaño-Hillary then turned around on defense and forced a steal thanks to aggressive ball pressure.
Four positive plays all within two minutes of each other – the transfer from George Mason University finally found her rhythm as a Hoosier.
The Hoosiers dominated a short-handed Cornhusker squad 81-45 Sunday afternoon at Assembly Hall. The IU bench received lots of playing time in the second half due to their substantial lead, and head coach Teri Moren was impressed with Cardaño-Hillary during those minutes.
“She’s still trying to get her feet wet in a real game and I thought she’s off to a good start,” Moren said. “We can depend on her for another guard off the bench that can give us some scoring.”
Cardaño-Hillary recorded a rebound, an assist and a steal to go with her five points against Nebraska. She also added an element of leadership for the second unit that will be necessary in future Big Ten matchups.
When sophomore forward Mackenzie Holmes was asked about the play of the reserves, Cardaño-Hillary was the first player she recognized individually.
“It was really great to see [Cardaño-Hillary] get her first points in an IU uniform,” Holmes said.
At George Mason, she was extremely impressive in her three years of action. Cardaño-Hillary set the program record for career points after averaging at least 17 points each season. Additionally, she was named Atlantic 10 Conference Player of the Year in her sophomore campaign.
On Wednesday, the NCAA allowed waivers for transfers in all college sports. This meant that Cardaño-Hillary, who has been practicing with the team since transferring this summer, was immediately eligible for games. She logged six minutes Thursday in her debut against the University of Tennessee but did not play her best, as was the theme for the entire team.
Yesterday, Cardaño-Hillary improved her play but still did not shoot as efficiently as she has in the past. Despite shooting 2-for-9 from the floor, Moren is encouraged by her mindset.
“Nicole has a very short memory which is great,” Moren said. “She is a high volume shooter. She was aggressive, she remained aggressive despite some of those shots not falling.”
The quicker she can get caught up to speed, the better off the Hoosiers will be. The starters have been forced to eat more minutes as the IU bench has been underwhelming through five games.
In the team’s two losses, the reserves have combined for six total points. However, they showed progress against Nebraska with 30 points in extended minutes.
“My biggest thing with our bench is I want them to come in and have an impact,” Moren said.
As a teammate, Holmes is very encouraging of the second unit.
“We know that our bench is going to give us all of their effort and energy, and we all really appreciate that,” Holmes said.
IU will take the floor next against Minnesota at 2 p.m. Wednesday in Minneapolis.