Indiana Daily Student

COLUMN: Indiana women’s basketball didn’t need its bench to win, but it could soon

Senior guard Grace Berger drives to the basket against Southern Illinois University on Thursday at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall. Berger finished with 18 points for Indiana women's basketball to extend its win streak to five games.
Senior guard Grace Berger drives to the basket against Southern Illinois University on Thursday at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall. Berger finished with 18 points for Indiana women's basketball to extend its win streak to five games.

Indiana women’s basketball's starting five took the floor of Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall on Thursday and did exactly what everyone expected them to do to Southern Illinois University. Coming into this game, Southern Illinois was ranked 171st nationally in scoring offense and 138th in scoring defense. 

The fans in the stands wore ugly sweaters, the game’s theme, but not one of them was uglier than the first half box score. 

Indiana's starters took just over two minutes to score, but it made sure it took Southern Illinois four more to get its first basket of the night. Indiana took a 38-8 lead by the end of the first half. 

Whether it was junior forward Mackenzie Holmes turning the paint into her personal scoring grounds, senior guard Grace Berger reaching into the bag for yet another impressive move or graduate student guard Nicole Cardaño-Hillary knocking down 3-pointers, Indiana’s starters had no trouble overwhelming Southern Illinois.

Women's basketball: [Defense drives Indiana women’s basketball to 70-37 victory over Southern Illinois]

It didn’t stop in the second half either. Indiana kept pouring it on like a kid at a restaurant given ill-advised access to a bottle of maple syrup for their pancakes, adding 32 points in the final two quarters. 

The Hoosiers didn’t give the Salukis a break on offense. Next to nothing was getting through the cream and crimson wall they built around the basket. It probably didn’t help that someone in the crowd screeched every time the Salukis went to shoot the ball.

Holmes, who usually handles the paint on defense, even ventured beyond the arc to force a terrible shot in the second quarter. The ball left the shooter’s hands before promptly hurtling right back at her, courtesy of a block by Holmes. 

Indiana upped its lead to 36 points by the time the fourth quarter came around. A lead that big means it's time for the bench.

While all five of Indiana's starters average at least 10 points per game, no members of its bench average more than 4.

Only four members of the bench have any points to their name, and those four had 77 combined points on the season going into this game. That’s 36 less points than senior forward Aleksa Gulbe, Indiana’s lowest-scoring starter. And of those 77, 22 came from free throws. 

If ever there was a time for Indiana’s bench to show what it could do, it was now and in this environment. The starters made short work of Southern Illinois. Barring something miraculous, it had no chance of coming back or even making Indiana nervous.

It’s good Indiana’s starters don't slack off and let their opponents get back into a game after they take a lead. However, it couldn’t hurt for the bench to get some experience.

When Southern Illinois showed a zone look in the second quarter, Indiana manipulated it into an opening for sophomore guard Chloe Moore-McNeil, who broke into the paint for a layup with sparse resistance. 

Freshman guard Kaitlin Peterson, who averaged 25 points as a senior in high school, entered the game with five minutes remaining in the fourth quarter. While she only had misses on shots and free throws, those aid in her development as a future contributor.

Indiana sent its bench in for the remaining three minutes of the game. While the starters rested, they leapt to their feet in protest of fouls and cheers on baskets. There probably would’ve been more of the latter had Southern Illinois not fouled on just about every shot attempt of the remaining three minutes.

In total, 14 of Indiana’s 70 points on the night came from its bench. With conference play looming, it could be the most action the bench sees for a while. Luckily for Indiana, it hasn’t needed that to win most of the time.

It could’ve used more from the bench in losses to Stanford University and North Carolina State University. It’ll absolutely need that if it wants to go as far in the NCAA Tournament as it says it does.

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