In its victory over IU in January, Ohio State women’s basketball’s 2-3 zone essentially won the team the game.
Once they switched into it, the Hoosiers lost their offensive flow. For a team that shoots under 30 percent from 3-point territory, IU shied away from feeding the post and settled for too many outside jumpers.
In Saturday’s rematch, head coach Teri Moren said she knew the Buckeyes would flash their zone again. This time, IU came prepared.
“We didn’t settle for pass, pass, three. Pass, pass, three,” Moren said. “We gave them doses of a little bit of outside shooting to penetration and then getting [sophomore forward Mackenzie Holmes] involved at the low block.”
The Hoosiers kept attacking and got players touches in spots where they are most dangerous. The guards used dribble penetration to find juniors Aleksa Gulbe and Grace Berger for numerous mid-range jumpers, while not forgetting about Holmes in the post.
As a result, all five starters scored in double-digits as No. 11 IU defeated No. 15 Ohio State 87-75 Saturday afternoon in Columbus, Ohio. It was the Hoosiers’ first victory over the Buckeyes since 2010.
As the season winds down, IU is playing some of its best basketball of the year. It has won seven consecutive games, four of which have been on the road.
Gritty wins against Michigan and now Ohio State illustrate the progress the Hoosiers have made since the start of the season, especially after previously losing some winnable games against high-caliber opponents after crumbling in the fourth quarter.
Recently, IU has been in the driver’s seat down the stretch. It forced five turnovers against Ohio State in the final 10 minutes, confirming how the team defense turned up a notch when it matters most.
“We’re a veteran team,” Berger said. “I don’t think we ever think we’re out of it and freak out.”
Another facet that making IU dangerous late in games is it’s strong endurance.
After multiple games this year, Moren has credited director of athletic performance Kevin Kenopasek for keeping her players in top-notch shape. IU is a team that prefers to push the pace, so the ability to compete hard for 40 minutes has given the Hoosiers a leg up on opponents.
Take senior guard Nicole Cardaño-Hillary for example – she is tasked with full-court pressuring the opposing point guard the entire game. Most teams are reluctant to implement this strategy themselves, since it is often counterproductive because it wears out its own point guard instead.
Cardaño-Hillary has embraced the challenge and benefited because of it.
“The one thing that Nikki has consistently been for us is high-energy,” Moren said. “It seems like she doesn’t get tired.”
Her irritating press created steals early on, yet her stamina is strong enough to be an asset late in games. The Madrid, Spain, native knocked down a massive 3-pointer in the fourth quarter that all but buried the Buckeyes.
Saturday’s win keeps IU in second place in the Big Ten behind Maryland.
IU can still split the regular season title if the Terrapins lose their finale at Michigan and the Hoosiers win their final two. Maryland has locked up the top seed in the Big Ten Tournament by winning the sole head-to-head meeting this year.
As for the NCAA Tournament, IU is currently 12th in the nation, according to the NCAA rankings revealed on Sunday. The ranking would qualify the Hoosiers as a three seed, the highest in program history.
The Hoosiers have two home games remaining in the regular season – one on Wednesday against Iowa and the senior-day finale against Purdue on Saturday.