The concept of a bounce-back game isn’t unfamiliar for No. 5 Indiana women’s basketball. This year’s team fell to Stanford University and North Carolina State University, a pair of other top-10 squads.
But the loss to Michigan, a Big Ten rival, left a different sort of bad taste in one’s mouth. That was a conference foe, one Indiana will need to get past if it wants to win the Big Ten, let alone reach the Final Four.
There’s always the excuse of the absence of junior forward Mackenzie Holmes, the Hoosiers’ leading scorer, but the best teams are able to adapt and overcome such deficiencies. It was an away game against the new No. 1 team in the conference, after all.
It was Indiana’s first regular season Big Ten loss since Jan. 28, 2021. The Hoosiers had been ripping and tearing their way through the conference up until that night in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
And what better way to bounce back from a loss like that than welcoming the lowly Minnesota Golden Gophers to Bloomington? Brandishing a comparatively lowly 10-12 record, the Gophers wandered into a nearly empty Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall and came a few minutes from walking out with a win.
Truthfully, Indiana should be thankful to have an opponent like Minnesota lined up after a loss. The Gophers boast just three wins over Big Ten opponents through 10 games, with two of those coming against 5-16 Wisconsin.
And yet, in the first half, the Hoosiers allowed the Gophers to shoot a 5-10 mark beyond the arc. Not only that, but Minnesota shot 50% from the field before taking a 37-36 lead into the locker room at halftime.
Indiana wasn’t thoroughly beaten in all aspects throughout the first half. Minnesota had 10 turnovers to Indiana’s seven, and the teams were even in rebounding at 16 apiece. Indiana’s real issues came from Minnesota junior guard Sara Scalia.
Scalia entered the game as the Gophers’s leading scorer and went on a 14-point tear in the first half, while no other Gopher had more than 7 points in the first two quarters.
The light in an otherwise dim half? Senior forward Aleksa Gulbe, who led Indiana with 12 points. Indiana has sought a true scoring threat from its forward since losing Holmes, and Gulbe began to fill that void.
Indiana was still firmly in the game to start the second half and has proven in its previous pair of wins it can make the appropriate adjustments to come out on top in these types of games.
And yet, Indiana still allowed Minnesota to maintain its momentum in the third quarter. Indiana scored 17 points, but gave up 17 to Minnesota in the process and couldn’t take the lead back.
Indiana hadn’t played its best game. It allowed more points than it had against any other team this season to a pedestrian Big Ten foe and looked doomed for a second consecutive loss.
But in crunch time, Indiana fell back on what may be its greatest weapon: fight.
Indiana stormed back late in the fourth quarter, going on a 14-point run in the closing four-and-a-half minutes to not only reclaim the lead but win by a comfortable 10 points.
Remember that thing about going down swinging, and how sometimes that momentum can swing you right back on top? Well, that strategy proved successful this time around for Indiana, thanks to a career-high 28 points from Gulbe, who scored in bunches both in the paint and beyond the arc.
Indiana has issues, yes. It absolutely should not have allowed Minnesota to score like a premier, offensively gifted team. But Gulbe’s emergence as a scoring threat in lieu of Holmes should give the rest of the Big Ten a good spook.