Graduate student guard Nicole Cardaño-Hillary couldn’t stop smiling at the postgame press conference after she and the rest of Indiana women’s basketball handed a 64-57 loss to their in-state rival, Purdue.
Cardaño-Hillary laughed, thanked the crowd for its record-setting turnout, made sure sophomore guard Chloe Moore-McNeil got recognition for her play and even performed a dance move when she was asked to. Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall’s emcee had announced during the game that the nae-nae was Cardaño-Hillary’s go-to dance move.
Through bouts of laughter between herself and Moore-McNeil, Cardaño-Hillary leaned and waved her hand back and forth as part of the dance. She explained she usually saves it for the 3-pointers she knocks down in practice.
It was a lot of laughter for a player who spent a good amount of time sliding across Branch McCracken Court. Mind you, this wasn’t due to poor play from Cardaño-Hillary.
Cardaño-Hillary fell to the floor after making a highly-contested shot in the paint during the closing minutes of the first quarter, while yelling in triumph. She’d come out of a scrum for the ball and fell backward as Purdue defenders closed in on her.
It was a sequence that spoke to Indiana’s toughness and the physicality the Boilermakers have brought against the Hoosiers this season.
Purdue head coach Katie Gearlds has brought an entirely new energy to the Boilermakers, Indiana head coach Teri Moren said in a postgame press conference. Moren is right too. This Purdue team brings the juice and will do anything in its power to claw its way back from a deficit.
Purdue’s new energy gave rise to physical play, and heated words were exchanged between the two teams once Purdue freshman guard Jayla Smith and Indiana senior guard Grace Berger collided on a rebound and Berger fell to the ground.
In response, Smith stood over Berger and began to taunt Indiana’s players, drawing boos from the crowd and beckons from her coach.
“Just a lot of emotions up in the air, it’s gonna happen sometimes,” Cardaño-Hillary said in a postgame press conference. “Nothing too serious.”
Smith was assigned to guard a variety of players for the rest of the game, including Berger and graduate student guard Ali Patberg. She brought the energy Gearlds wants in her players, too. Diving for rebounds or flying downcourt for a block, Smith brought so much energy that she flew into photographers underneath the basket multiple times.
But Smith’s and Purdue’s physicality and words didn’t faze Indiana’s guards, as Berger and Cardaño-Hillary combined for 36 points. Too much attention from Purdue in the interior also left Cardaño-Hillary and Moore-McNeil wide open beyond the arc.
Moore-McNeil brought fire off the bench, hustling to the interior for 10 rebounds and scoring 11 points for a double-double. Cardaño-Hillary said the Hoosiers have seen Moore-McNeil’s potential in practice and are excited for fans and media to see it on game days.
But for Moore-McNeil? She said it was exciting for her to have such a dominant performance, especially against a rival, and said it couldn’t have happened without the support of her teammates.
The wrestling match of a basketball game ultimately came down to the closing minutes of the fourth quarter. Purdue clawed its way back, determined to steal a win on Indiana’s home court.
To that end, Purdue committed five fouls in the final minute to regain possession of the ball, out fouling Indiana 20-7 over the course of the game. Unfortunately for Purdue, these fouls led to easy free throws from Berger — the same player whose shooting and defense down the stretch felled Purdue on Jan. 16 in West Lafayette.
Berger, as she tends to do, made all four of the free throws Purdue gave her. The Boilermakers, delving for a last-minute lead with overly physical play, instead dug their own grave.
Plenty of reason for Cardaño-Hillary to hit the nae-nae, if you ask me.