Coming off a stretch of two away games and three COVID-19 postponements, No. 5 Indiana women’s basketball returns home to face Minnesota at 7 p.m. Thursday at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall. Indiana has an 8-1 record at home this season, but has not played a game in Bloomington since Jan. 13, when it defeated Nebraska.
Indiana enters the game at 14-2 overall and 6-1 in conference play, having sustained its first Big Ten loss to No. 6 Michigan on Monday in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Including Michigan, all of Indiana’s losses this season have come to teams currently ranked in the top-10 of the Associated Press poll.
On the other side, Minnesota has compiled a 10-12 overall record this season and struggled in the Big Ten, going 3-7 in conference matchups. In its most recent game, Minnesota defeated Wisconsin to stop a four-game losing skid, the team’s longest this season.
Here are three things the Hoosiers will look to improve when they face the Golden Gophers Thursday.
Shake off the rust
Indiana entered the contest against Michigan having not played a game in over two weeks and, as a result, struggled to keep up and chased the lead for long stretches in the loss.
“We’re not a program that makes excuses, but I did think we looked like a team that had been off for a couple weeks,” Indiana head coach Teri Moren said postgame. “We looked really rusty and had no real rhythm.”
Getting that rhythm back will be a key for Indiana on Thursday. The team shot the ball poorly against Michigan, going 33.3% from the field, 21.4% from 3-point range and 53.8% from the free-throw line — all significantly below Indiana’s season averages. After the game, Moren said Indiana is better at shooting the ball than it showed Monday and she expects those percentages to improve in the next game.
Slowing down a balanced Minnesota squad
Indiana struggled inside against Michigan senior forward Naz Hillmon and the rest of her team’s forwards, but won the battle in the paint against teams like Nebraska and Purdue, who lack forwards with as much talent as Hillmon. Without a Hillmon-level frontcourt player on Minnesota, Indiana’s bigs have the potential for a bounce-back game, even with junior forward Mackenzie Holmes still out with a knee injury.
Instead, the Golden Gophers’ offensive production is concentrated in their backcourt, with the team’s top two scorers being guards. The two guards, junior Sara Scalia and graduate student Deja Winters, along with junior forward Kadi Sissoko average over 40 points per game combined, but none of them average more than 16.1 points per game. No other player on the Gophers’ roster averages more than 6 points per game.
This balanced scoring attack means Minnesota, like Indiana, can rely on multiple players to score rather than looking to get the ball to the same player on every offensive possession and staying one-dimensional.
Battle in the paint
Over its last three games, Indiana’s interior production on both the offensive and defensive ends has been inconsistent. Holmes sustained her knee injury prior to the game against Nebraska, which left Indiana lacking a dominant presence in the paint.
In those three games, other forwards have stepped up their production in Holmes’ absence, namely senior Aleksa Gulbe and sophomore Kiandra Browne.
Gulbe has shouldered more of the load offensively, but lacks the size and shooting touch to serve as a sole scoring option in the paint in the Big Ten. Browne, who stepped into the starting lineup when Holmes went down, does not command as much attention on the offensive end, but has provided good minutes on defense and brings an energy to the court that Indiana otherwise misses without Holmes.