In No. 16 IU women’s basketball’s losses this season, the same problems have plagued head coach Teri Moren’s squad.
A blown lead cost them a win over then No. 11 University of Kentucky, 3-point shooting woes kept them behind Tennessee and early scoring droughts made all the difference in the 84-80 loss to then No. 12 Maryland.
Despite playing from behind in a similar position on the road Sunday against No. 21 Northwestern – the reigning Big Ten regular season co-champions – IU fought back in the second half to win 74-61 for its first ranked victory of the season.
“We’ve come short on some ranked teams this season, so to be able to beat a ranked team and just be able to win a road game in the Big Ten is a really big win,” senior guard Jaelynn Penn said.
Before Sunday, all of IU’s wins were by at least 21 points and its losses all by single digits. The Hoosiers fell behind early like they had in their three losses this season but rallied to overcome a 13-point second half deficit and upend the Wildcats.
In addition to missing open looks and turning the ball over more than normal, IU struggled to defend and slow down Northwestern’s top playmakers. Senior Lindsey Pulliam and junior Veronica Burton continued hitting mid-range jumpers for the Wildcats, and that pressure mounted on the Hoosiers when they got into foul trouble at the end of the first half. It didn’t help either that Northwestern converted its first 17 free throw attempts.
“We knew that it was not gonna be easy,” Moren said. “They put a lot of pressure on you in a lot of different ways, not just defensively but offensively with Pulliam and Burton, just how they can score the ball and how they’re veteran, they’re experienced.”
Before they could make any defensive changes to get back into the game, the Hoosiers were desperate for a spark on offense.
Sophomore forward Mackenzie Holmes is usually a go-to option out of the post for IU, but she missed five of her first eight shots from the field as Northwestern’s defense collapsed in on her with double teams. Holmes eventually turned it around to get settled around the rim, and her game-high 22 points and 10 rebounds set the pace for the Hoosiers offensively.
“In the first half we were missing a lot of shots that we usually make, and we had one of two choices,” Holmes said. “It was either feel sorry for ourselves that the ball’s not going in, or make the next one.”
Once IU started making those shots they were so used to hitting, the Hoosiers put more of an emphasis on defensive adjustments.
Northwestern had been making IU pay for its turnovers with aggressive fastbreaks in the first half, so the Hoosiers took better care of the ball and made sure to get back quickly on defense. When transition scoring wasn’t as much of a factor for the Wildcats in the second half, their offense stalled and was often working late into the shot clock.
“I thought they looked like they were pressing a lot and doing some uncharacteristic things of our basketball team,” Moren said. “The second half we got back to being us and who we are.”
After trailing 36-33 at halftime and 54-48 through three quarters of play, IU outscored Northwestern 26-7 in the final frame to seal the come-from-behind win.
The Hoosiers last beat the Wildcats on the road exactly five years today, but this win comes as a relief to IU because of recent history between the two programs with IU’s losing streak in mind.
“We felt like we owed them,” Penn said. “Last year we came down here and they beat us by 20, and that just never left the back of our heads. We wanted to come out here and beat them on their homecourt.”
The Hoosiers are now 9-3 overall and 7-1 in conference play. IU has one week off before its next game at home Sunday against Michigan State.