IU women’s basketball was held scoreless the first 4:21 of Saturday’s game before Nicole Cardaño-Hillary came up with a deflection in the backcourt and sprinted toward the opposite end of the floor. The senior guard tracked down the loose ball and converted the transition layup to finally get the Hoosiers on the scoreboard.
Almost two hours later, Cardaño-Hillary let out a roar and flexed her arms after swishing a pair of free throws to give IU a 4-point lead with 21 seconds remaining.
Despite missing its first eight shots and spotting North Carolina State University 7 points to start the first quarter, IU relied on its defense to overcome its sluggish start and ultimately rally its way to a 73-70 win at the Alamodome in San Antonio.
“We didn’t panic when they made a run at the beginning of the game,” senior guard Ali Patberg said. “We just had to answer.”
And answer they did.
Just as the Hoosiers found their rhythm on the offensive end toward the end of the first quarter, their defense started coming up with stops and forced turnovers. Cardaño-Hillary’s relentless on-ball pressure resulted in a game-high four steals, and NC State committed 17 turnovers in total.
Patberg said it would not have been possible without her coaches and their ability to put together meaningful scouting reports.
“I think we have the best coaching staff in the country, and that showed tonight,” Patberg said. “If we just did what our game plan was, we knew we were gonna win.”
The Hoosiers held junior center Elissa Cunane, the Wolfpack’s leading scorer, in check for much of the game before sophomore forward Mackenzie Holmes fouled out with 3:24 left.
Head coach Teri Moren turned to Kiandra Browne as NC State chipped away at IU’s double-digit lead with the game on the line, and the freshman forward helped fend off the late comeback attempt with sturdy defense in the paint.
“She was so ready for that moment,” Moren said of Browne. “Tonight was a great example of a kid that has stayed ready, has been ready, was ready tonight.”
Browne hugged her coach after the win and thanked Moren for believing in her enough to play such important minutes down the stretch.
It was an emotional finish to a hard-fought game, and Patberg said the Hoosiers haven’t reached their end goal yet.
“We came to win it all,” Patberg said. “We weren’t here to get to a Sweet 16 and then to an Elite Eight — we want to keep going.”
IU will have a chance to clinch its first-ever Final Four appearance against University of Arizona at 7 or 9 p.m. Monday at the Alamodome in San Antonio.