Returning from the Bahamas with a loss to then-No. 7 Stanford University and a win over the University of Miami, No. 6 Indiana women’s basketball plays host to No. 2 North Carolina State University in Assembly Hall at 7 p.m. Thursday.
The last time the teams played each other was at the Sweet 16 round of last season’s NCAA Tournament. Indiana won 73-70 behind a balanced scoring attack that saw all starters score in double figures, led by guard Ali Patberg with 17 points.
Even though both teams returned their core players from last year, Indiana’s starting five has not changed since that tournament game. Head coach Teri Moren acknowledged that only trying to recreate last year’s game will not work.
“This is a different team,” Moren said. “They're better than they were a year ago. They're more explosive offensively than they were a year ago. This is going to be an NC State team that's going to come in here with a lot of motivation.”
Since NC State’s last game against Indiana, it has added graduate student forward Kayla Jones and sophomore guard Diamond Johnson. Jones missed last season’s game due to an injury while Johnson joined the team after transferring from Rutgers. Both have started games for NC State this season.
“This is the deepest team we’ll play all year, and they're really good from every position,” Moren said. “But that just means we’re going to have to be more determined and focused.”
Rebounding has been a point of emphasis for Moren. She said the team’s rebounding will need to be better Thursday than it has been so far this season against a more physical team. NC State’s starting center, senior Elissa Cunane, is averaging 7.4 rebounds per game to go along with her team-leading 14.4 points per game.
“They're going to be bigger than we are, especially with Cunane in there who is 6’5, and probably better athletically than we are, but that doesn't give us an excuse to not put ourselves in positions to box out and chase down long rebounds and chase down loose balls,” Moren said.
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In Indiana’s last top-10 matchup, a 69-66 loss to Stanford last week in the Bahamas, the team was out-rebounded 59-38.
“It's something that we obviously emphasize every day,” Moren said. “You know, it’s skill-related, but it's also heart-related and we just have to be more relentless than them.”
Moren said the team’s focus is forcing NC State off of the 3-point line without giving up uncontested 2-pointers and layups. The team will also try to slow down Cunane inside by being smart with double teams.
Offensively, Moren said minimizing turnovers will be a key to a successful game. The team struggled with ball security last game against Miami, recording 24 turnovers, 14 of which came from guards Grace Berger and Nicole Cardaño-Hilary.
“We’ve got to take great care of the basketball,” Moren said. “Possessions are going to matter in this game, so our ability to rebound, our ability to get out and push the pace but also take care of the basketball is going to be really crucial in this game.”
Moren said that despite the fact Indiana has some disadvantages against a talented NC State team, she expects a competitive game between the two top-ranked teams.
“Our kids are excited,” Moren said. “(NC State) is fixing mad. They're ready to come in here, and I think it’s going to be a really good women’s basketball game.”