No. 7 Indiana women's basketball won the opening tip-off against Illinois and once on offense, it passed the ball around until it found sophomore forward Kiandra Browne for a contested shot in the paint. Her layup fell through the hoop to give Indiana an early lead, which it never relinquished.
Indiana went on to defeat Illinois 93-61 on Wednesday in Champaign, Illinois. Browne’s basket counted for the first of the team’s 28 first-quarter points, the most in any quarter this season for the Hoosiers. In that same first quarter, the Fighting Illini only managed to score 8 points of its own.
“Our kids came out, and I thought they looked really comfortable, really got into some early easy flow for us offensively,” head coach Teri Moren said postgame. “I don’t want to just pick one or two of our players tonight, I thought all of them came in and contributed and did something really well throughout.”
Graduate student guard Ali Patberg led the way for Indiana with a game-high 26 points, but Indiana’s overall offensive attack was fairly balanced. Senior forward Aleksa Gulbe also scored 18 points, and senior guard Grace Berger added 13 points of her own, in addition to leading the team with eight rebounds and seven assists.
“We’re a close group, we’re together,” Patberg said. “Whatever is thrown at us, we handle it well. We’re a talented group, but we work extremely hard in the offseason preparing, and so we’re ready for whatever is thrown at us.”
In addition to the Hoosiers’ starters’ balanced scoring output, their bench was also able to step in and play extended minutes with the game out of reach. In the final minutes and with the game effectively decided, the Hoosiers sent out an all-bench lineup — a rarity for the team this season, particularly in Big Ten play.
Sophomore guard Chloe Moore-McNeil scored 9 points, and freshman guard Kaitlin Peterson scored a career-high 11 points.
“My coaches and teammates just always tell me to be ready when I get in, so I just try to stay ready and play hard whenever I get in," Peterson said.
In the third quarter, graduate student guard Nicole Cardaño-Hillary landed on an Illinois player’s foot as her defender tried to close out on a shot attempt, leading Cardaño-Hillary to go down and grab her lower leg. Cardaño-Hillary was subbed out from the game and did not return, but Moren said she will be fine and should not miss any games for Indiana.
Moren also provided an update on Wooden Award candidate junior forward Mackenzie Holmes postgame. Holmes, who leads the team in points, rebounds and blocks this season, has not played since Jan. 5 at Wisconsin after sustaining a knee injury. Moren said Holmes has begun individual workouts and will likely return before the end of the regular season.
“I think everybody’s excited about where she is right now in terms of her rehab and the probability of her getting back on the court soon,” Moren said.
Indiana will return from its one-game road trip and play Michigan State at 3 p.m. Saturday at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall. The game was originally rescheduled from Jan. 19, when the teams were unable to play because of COVID-19 protocols within Indiana’s program.