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The Indiana Daily Student

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No. 6 Indiana women’s basketball overcomes slow start to beat No. 21 Illinois

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After a rough first quarter which saw it fall behind by 9 points early in front of a large opposing crowd, No. 6 Indiana women’s basketball came back to defeat No. 21 Illinois 83-72 in Urbana-Champaign on Wednesday.

In the first matchup between these teams on Dec. 4, the Hoosiers barely escaped with a win on their home court and the Illini brought the same fight to the second contest from the opening tip-off. 

[Related: Indiana women’s basketball overcomes rebounding struggles to beat Illinois in Big Ten opener

Midway through the first quarter, the game was still close until the Illini opened up a 7-0 run across a span of less than 90 seconds which put the Hoosiers in a 9-point hole and forced them to call a timeout. In the timeout, graduate forward Grace Berger said the team didn’t make any big changes to their defense, they just refocused on executing the game plan.

“We were definitely frustrated at the beginning that we were giving up some easy looks,” Berger said after the game. “So just as a veteran team, we huddled together and realized that if we wanted to win this game, we had to figure out a way to start making things a little harder on them.”

Indiana responded, however, and proceeded to outscore Illinois by 15 points across the last few minutes of the first quarter and entirety of the second quarter. During that stretch, Indiana was able to lock down defensively while controlling the boards and getting to the foul line efficiently — nine of Indiana’s 19 second quarter points came from the charity stripe.

After taking its first lead of the game, Indiana was determined to keep it and never again trailed, but Illinois still provided plenty of threats to that advantage. The biggest challenge to Indiana’s lead came midway through the fourth quarter when a 9-0 Illinois run cut the lead to 7 points.

The ninth point of that run came at the free throw line, where Illinois was shooting two after Indiana senior forward Mackenzie Holmes picked up her fourth personal foul while defending a shot. Despite the risk of fouling out, head coach Teri Moren kept her star post player in and Holmes stayed confident, producing a run-stopping and-1 on the ensuing Indiana possession.

After Holmes' highlight regained momentum for the Hoosiers, they never gave it up and were able to hold on the rest of the way and earn the Big Ten road victory, 83-72.

In addition to Holmes’ game-high 30 points and 10 rebounds — her eighth double-double of the season — Berger, freshman guard Yarden Garzon and junior guard Chloe Moore-McNeil each scored in double figures. Moore-McNeil also led the team with six assists, including three in the first quarter to help set the tone early.

For Illinois, it was junior forward Kendall Bostic who led the way with 17 points, 11 rebounds and was the primary defender on Holmes on most possessions. After the game, Moren said that matchup helped decide the game.

“Two great posts really having the battle tonight,” Moren said. “I think Mack obviously showed she has great footwork, great hands, can score with either hand. She's just a little bit different, she's a throwback post player that can score in a lot of different ways.”

The win marked the 189th for Moren since she took the program helm ahead of the 2014-15 season, making her the winningest coach in Indiana women’s basketball history. In Sunday’s win over Wisconsin, Moren — in her ninth season with the team — tied Jim Izard with 188 wins, a mark that took Izard 12 years to reach. However, despite the achievement, Moren said the accomplishment speaks to the players she has coached rather than anything she has done.

“It's always come down to the players,” Moren said on Sunday. “I've yet to make an assist or layup or free throw or get a big block, a steal — it's always come down to those players that are playing inside the lines for us, and there's been a lot of them. A lot of really great players that have been through our program in nine years and all of them certainly are the ones that have really done all the work.”

Indiana is now 17-1 overall — tied for the best start in program history — and 7-1 in the Big Ten. For its next game, Indiana travels to Ann Arbor to continue its short road trip with a matchup against No. 14 Michigan at 8 p.m. Monday.

Follow reporters Will Foley (@foles24) and Matt Sebree (@mattsebree) and columnist Matt Press (@MattPress23) for updates throughout the Indiana women’s basketball season.
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