No. 6 Indiana women’s basketball hasn’t been perfect this year, a point made obvious by its 12-2 record. Luckily for the Hoosiers, those two losses came against two current top-10 teams, No. 2 Stanford University and No. 5 North Carolina State University.
Those losses are respectable, since both opponents have sat atop the women’s college basketball rankings and each won a national championship in the past decade.
The wins are more of a mixed bag, mostly in a good way — they are wins, after all. The Hoosiers have blown out or bested inferior competition and beaten what looked to be strong teams by double digits. But on other nights, they’ve let a few teams hang around which they probably shouldn’t have.
Wednesday night’s 76-53 win against Wisconsin falls under the first category. Not exactly a full-on blowout, but a convincing win.
Indiana’s wins against Butler University, Norfolk State University, Fairfield University and Southern Illinois University were all blowouts. These results were expected with the considerable gaps in talent, resources and proven resume between Indiana and its opponents.
Even rival No. 21 University of Kentucky and Big Ten rivals such as Ohio State, Penn State and now Wisconsin were bested by Indiana in decisive fashion, each by at least 20 points.
Sure, Quinnipiac University, the University of Miami and, to some degree, Western Michigan University, gave Indiana a bit of a spook, but they all were put away in the closing stages.
Indiana has avoided what has derailed many a titan in college basketball, both in the regular season and tournament play — the dreaded upset. Even its mere utterance leads a fanbase to cringe.
Indiana was on the positive end of an upset this past Sunday against Maryland, the previous occupant of the Hoosiers’ highly coveted No. 6 spot in the AP poll.
However, one could feel the tremors coming from Kohl Center in Madison, Wisconsin, once the Badgers took an early lead in the first quarter.
But this is Indiana, no lead against it is ever truly safe. Not with its guards converting open shots aided largely by the mere presence of junior forward Mackenzie Holmes patrolling the paint. Not with its defense forcing head scratching shots-turned-airballs whenever it can’t prevent them outright.
Holmes, Indiana’s leading scorer heading into Wednesday’s game with 18.1 points per game, scares the living daylights out of any defense that has the misfortune of dealing with her looming presence.
Wisconsin sure was scared, and its initial focus on the interior ended up being exactly what Indiana ordered to spark a scoring run.
While Holmes had just 4 points in the first half, Indiana’s guards were more than happy to replace her production on offense. Three other starters, senior Grace Berger and graduate students Ali Patberg and Nicole Cardaño-Hillary combined for 25 of Indiana’s 36 first-half points. Patberg and Cardaño-Hillary shot a combined 4-5 from behind the arc.
During the second half, however, Indiana kept its foot on the gas on offense, but mistakenly allowed Wisconsin to do the same.
The Badgers decided that instead of simply fearing Holmes, they should embrace what she does — in their own offensive strategy. Of the Badgers’ 21 third quarter points, 14 came in the paint. The Badgers didn’t force shots over the Hoosiers’ defenders either, they instead finessed their way past them.
The Hoosiers were able to match the Badgers output with 21 third quarter points of their own to keep the tremors of upset at bay. On top of that, the Badgers lost track of Holmes, who leapt into double figures with a 12-point second-half performance.
Wisconsin had a bit of momentum, but Indiana won’t fall apart because of that — it’ll take that momentum right back. This win wasn’t a prevented upset, it was Indiana’s usual double-digit domination.
The Hoosiers are hot at a good time early in conference play, but they’ll need to maintain that energy if they want a shot at a Big Ten title. If this game is taken as a microcosm, the Hoosiers absolutely have that shot.