Up 24 points late in the fourth quarter, the game was all but over for IU against Wisconsin Sunday afternoon. Both teams’ second units were in, and the clock was inching toward zero.
But by the way IU was playing defense, you would have no idea it was the last two minutes.
Junior guard Nicole Cardaño-Hillary deflected a Badger pass right at freshman Chloe Moore-McNeil, who then lobbed it ahead to Cardaño-Hillary for the easy deuce.
That play gave the Hoosiers the 73-47 lead, but at that point it wasn’t about the scoreboard. It was about hustling while guarding the ball for 40 minutes – a theme the coaching staff has drilled into their players’ heads.
Hitting open jumpers is ‘the cherry on top,’ as head coach Teri Moren put it, but the fastest way players, specifically the reserves, can earn more minutes is by playing meaningful defense.
“The impact I’m particularly talking about is on the defensive end,” Moren said. “Where they’ll talk, where they’ll hustle, where they’ll focus will be on the defensive end.”
Moren has built the program based on a defense-comes-first mentality, and victories have come as a result.
This season, the Hoosiers rank second in the Big Ten in scoring defense, giving up only 58 points per game. Their offense is statistically in the middle of the pack, but their intensity guarding the ball has boosted them to a 5-1 record in conference play.
For the bench players to see more minutes on the floor, they need to follow that trend.
The second group was successful in that regard against the Badgers, especially senior guard Keyanna Warthen. Warthen and senior Ali Patberg were tasked with guarding offensively-gifted sophomore Sydney Hilliard.
“Key is an experienced guard,” Moren said. “She’s been asked to guard some of those opposing team’s best perimeter players because we trust her.”
Warthen played solid defense and also contributed with 6 points on 3-3 shooting.
Sophomore Grace Waggoner and freshman Kiandra Browne have also been rewarded with more playing time because of their defensive efforts. Waggoner is best at ending defensive possessions with her rebounding ability, while Browne’s ability to be vocal on the floor is impressive.
“For a freshman, she communicates at a high, high level that gives her teammates energy and that gives herself energy,” Moren said.
If you combine those players with Cardaño-Hillary who continues to start in place of injured Jaelynn Penn, the group of reserves is coming together.
“They’re huge for our team and our future success,” Patberg said. “Everyone matters for our team, and that’s the truth.”
Realistically, the bench doesn’t have to produce much offense to help the Hoosiers win. Sure, it would help, but IU’s starters provided 62 of the 74 total points on Sunday, and Moren was still impressed with the effort of her reserves.
It was plays like the Moore-McNeil steal and breakaway layup for Cardaño-Hillary that made her proud.
“What we’re asking from those guys off the bench is not any less or any more that we ask from our starters,” Moren said, “but it will always start on the defensive end.”
IU will look to improve to 6-1 in conference play against in-state rival Purdue on Thursday.