No. 7 Indiana women’s basketball now has three games under its belt since its return from a 15-day COVID-19 pause. In the past week of play, Indiana suffered a loss to now-No. 4 Michigan on the road and defeated both Minnesota and Purdue at home.
With the most recent AP Top-25 poll placing Michigan at No. 4, all three of Indiana’s losses in the 2021-22 season have been at the hands of teams who are currently one of the top five teams in the country. Alongside Michigan, Stanford University currently sits at No. 2 and North Carolina State University is ranked at No. 5.
This upcoming week, the Hoosiers will not face any ranked opponents and have room to rediscover their flow and rhythm – something they have yet to do since returning from their long break from play.
The Hoosiers’ first chance to do so comes against the Illinois Fighting Illini, which are 1-6 in Big Ten play and 6-12 overall. The Illini are also coming out of a COVID-19 pause and played their first game in 13 days against Wisconsin on Sunday, losing 70-62.
Here are the top three things to keep in mind for the Wednesday night matchup.
Patberg and the perimeter
Graduate student guard Ali Patberg held Purdue’s leading scorer, sophomore guard Madison Layden, scoreless in Indiana’s win Sunday. Head coach Teri Moren said after the game she chooses to put Patberg on the opponent’s best perimeter player because she knows Patberg is aware of what she has to do and she will deliver.
If Moren approaches Illinois with the same game plan, Patberg will likely end up guarding sophomore guard Aliyah Nye. Nye, the only player averaging double digits for the Fighting Illini, averages 11.2 points per game and takes the most shots from beyond the arc. She sits well above the rest of her Illini teammates with 45 successful 3-pointers this season.
However, Nye has not scored more than five points in Illinois’ last two games, both of which were losses to then-No. 23 Iowa and Wisconsin.
The Fighting Illini average 65.3 points per game and allow 71.4 points from opponents. The Hoosiers are averaging 71.5 points per game and have held opponents to 58.7 points per game. If Patberg, currently averaging 11.5 points, is able to get in a shooting groove, she will likely have an even greater influence on the scoring margins.
Indiana’s bench play
Indiana’s bench has seen much more action as tournament play approaches, especially with the absence of junior forward Mackenzie Holmes, who is still sidelined while undergoing rehab following a knee procedure.
Sophomore guard Chloe Moore-McNeil, who struggled early in the season with knocking down her limited shots, recorded her first career double-double against Purdue on Sunday. Moore-McNeil put up 11 points and 10 rebounds, including two vital 3-pointers.
Junior guard Grace Waggoner has also seen important minutes off the bench, and while she didn’t score in the seven minutes she played on Sunday, graduate student guard Nicole Cardaño-Hillary said Waggoner brings great energy when she comes in.
Waggoner is especially active on the defensive end, which could be beneficial against an Illinois team averaging 17.8 turnovers. Sophomore forward Kiandra Browne, who has been elevated off the bench in lieu of Holmes, will also have the chance to provide momentum for Indiana. Browne excels at drawing personal fouls, and Illinois averages 16 fouls per game.
The Hoosiers have a 12-game win streak over the Fighting Illini and haven’t lost to them since 2013. They will try to continue that streak at 8 p.m. Wednesday in Champaign, Illinois. The game will be broadcast on BTN+.