In the final three minutes of the Saturday afternoon Big Ten semifinal matchup, Indiana women’s basketball scored 2 points. Ohio State scored seven. But at that point, it didn’t really matter.
The Hoosiers never once trailed in the game, and while there was frustration among them in the final minutes of the fourth quarter, they stuck to what they knew and pulled out a win, beating the Buckeyes 70-62 to advance to the Big Ten Championship for the first time since 2002.
“We gave it our all,” graduate student guard Ali Patberg said. “We came in so prepared, even with the one day turnaround. We were confident with the game plan, and all we had to do was execute it.”
Indiana beat Ohio State earlier in the season by a score of 86-66, largely due to Indiana’s 56 points in the paint. Patberg and the rest of the team have continually praised their coaches for the preparation put into each game, and the knowledge they provide about opponents’ tendencies.
The Hoosiers took full advantage of that knowledge Saturday afternoon. While the Buckeyes scored 34 points in the paint, they only shot 4-21 from beyond the arc. The Buckeyes entered the game as the top 3-point shooting team in the conference, averaging about 8.5 made 3-pointers per game.
A combination of a strong Indiana defense and Ohio State’s shots hitting the rim or completely airballing kept Ohio State to one 3-pointer in the whole first half and, consequently, kept Ohio State from finding any momentum.
On the other end of the court, Indiana found its rhythm from the opening tip. Sophomore guard Chloe Moore-McNeil took senior forward Aleksa Gulbe’s spot in the starting five, as Gulbe was sidelined for the first minutes of the game with a non-COVID-19-related illness.
“I loved how she came out, like her hair was on fire,” head coach Teri Moren said. “We had no problem knowing that Chloe was going to come in, and she was going to help us.”
Moore-McNeil was one of five Hoosiers to score in double figures, putting up 11 points. Graduate student guards led the scoring as Nicole Cardaño-Hillary had 16 points, and Patberg scored 15.
Patberg also shot 3-7 from deep, working around an Ohio State defense that tried to keep Indiana from shooting from the perimeter. As a team, Indiana shot 50% from 3-point range and 45% from field goal range.
“We’re so talented at every position,” Patberg said. “We believe we can score at any time, at any position…the game plan was just to be us, and we were.”
In being themselves, the Hoosiers were also aggressive on both ends of the court, drawing fouls and driving in whenever possible. The Buckeyes finished the game with 20 personal fouls, and the Hoosiers tallied up 17 points off free throws.
Indiana struggled at times throughout the game against a strong, almost constant full-court press from Ohio State, sometimes failing to get the best shots off or even cross the half-court line in time. But Indiana adjusted as the game went on and didn’t falter, finding new ways to get shots off.
“I think we were able to handle it,” Cardaño-Hillary said. “Helping each other out when someone’s getting trapped or flashing, that overall helped us (too).”
Cardaño-Hillary led the team in rebounds with 11, despite being the shortest player on the court. Indiana outrebounded Ohio State 37-30, and Moren said the statistic she was most proud of was the rebounding numbers.
“Statistics show when we out-rebound teams, we win,” Moren said. “It was a great collective effort by the Hoosiers today, and (I’m) really proud of how these guys showed up and executed.”
Indiana has yet another chance to show up and execute as it heads to the Big Ten Championship game at 4 p.m. Sunday to face off against Iowa for the third time this season. Indiana has not appeared in a title game since 2002, when it beat Penn State 75-72.
“I’m excited, but we have one more game to play, so we need to stay focused on that,” Patberg said. “You can bet we’re going to give it our all, and we’re going to fight.”