Indiana women’s basketball went into Thursday’s second-round Big Ten Tournament game against Rutgers on a three-game losing streak. The team was swept by Iowa in back-to-back games and fell to Maryland in the regular season finale. This string of losses was a far cry from the team that beat the Big Ten’s current No. 1 seed, Ohio State, by 20 points on the road.
The Hoosiers faced adversity — an injury to their highest scorer, scarce time to rest and recuperate after games and a lack of strong contribution from their bench — but above all of those, particularly in Indiana’s three final regular season games, its tendency of slow starts on offense caused the most concern.
Indiana needed to get over that hurdle to have a shot at a run in the Big Ten Tournament, and Rutgers represented an ideal opponent. The Scarlet Knights entered Thursday’s game with an 11-19 overall record, having won just three of their 17 Big Ten matchups.
If Indiana was gonna prove something, Thursday was the day to do it.
Rutgers’ worse than abysmal conference record fails to represent its defense, which is ranked No. 1 in the Big Ten in points allowed per game at 59.8. The downside is that this lights-out defense is dragged down by an offense which only averages 58.6 points per game.
But Indiana has a formidable defense as well, holding opponents to an average of 62.2 points per game, and the offense scores 72.7 points per game. The Hoosiers should just be able to outscore Rutgers in any given matchup: it’s simple math.
Rutgers’ gameplan on defense was readily apparent, with multiple Scarlet Knights scrambling to crowd the interior. Between junior Mackenzie Holmes and senior Aleksa Gulbe, Indiana has multiple options at forward, and Rutgers set out to eliminate both.
And, to that defense’s credit, it mostly worked. Gulbe fouled out of the game in the fourth quarter, and Holmes picked up three fouls of her own before the final buzzer.
Multiple Rutgers defenders seemed to materialize out of thin air into double teams to clog passing lanes and keep Hoosiers from driving into the interior. In case you weren’t convinced, Rutgers made minimal effort to disrupt most of Indiana’s inbounds plays, instead remaining firmly crowded around the paint.
So the forwards weren’t an ideal option, but that was just fine for Indiana. Senior guard Ali Splashberg — I mean Patberg — was more than happy to fill in on offense with five 3-pointers and 19 points overall. Not that she didn’t leave any scoring for senior guard Grace Berger, who put up 17 points of her own.
Unfortunately for the Scarlet Knights, their offense was as well represented as their defense. Rutgers ended the night shooting 37% from the field and only had three assists as a team. Three, an atrocious number. For comparison’s sake, Patberg, one player, had six.
As good as it is for Indiana that its guards were able to pick up the slack on offense, the Hoosiers still got out to a slow start. Indiana scored 16 points in each of the first three quarters and then 18 in the fourth.
A better offensive team would’ve caught up with Indiana quickly tonight and forced some tough late-game decisions. That’s what happened against Iowa and Maryland. Speaking of Maryland, that’s Indiana’s next opponent: the team that Indiana head coach Teri Moren has only beaten once in her career, a win that came earlier this year.
This isn’t to say Indiana is in major trouble or is bad, absolutely not. But slow starts will lead to the Hoosiers being sent back to Bloomington much sooner than they would prefer.