Late in the third quarter on Monday night, a run by No. 13 Ohio State threatened to topple the strong lead built by the visiting No. 2 Indiana women’s basketball team.
The Hoosiers’ advantage, which at one point was as great as 27 points, had been cut to just 10 points after the Buckeyes came out of halftime and outscored the visitors 18-6 in the first eight minutes of the third quarter.
Following the jumper by Ohio State senior forward Eboni Walker, which took the deficit to 10, Indiana inbounded the ball in desperate need of a bucket to stop its three-minute-long scoring drought.
After bringing the ball down and getting into the halfcourt offense, graduate guard Grace Berger drove from the wing to the free-throw line, drawing in three Ohio State defenders who collapsed to prevent the midrange assassin from getting a shot off. Berger coolly fired a one-handed pass off to senior guard Sara Scalia and, standing a few feet behind the arc, Scalia pulled up and splashed in a triple before the defense could recover.
The 3-pointer, Scalia’s sixth of the evening and part of her 24-point outing, put a stop to the run and allowed the Hoosiers to snatch back momentum in the final couple of minutes in the third quarter. Following that shot, the lead never fell below 12 points the rest of the game, and Indiana closed out the 83-59 win over Ohio State at the Schottenstein Center in Columbus.
“We knew that there was going to be a run that was going to be made by Ohio State, and sure enough, there was,” Indiana head coach Teri Moren said after the game. “But you know, one of the things with this group is that they don't panic. We just kind of settle in and realize that we have to get stops, and then we have to go down on the other end and execute at a high level.”
While Scalia provided that high-level execution on the play to stop the run, the moment was just one part of her best performance since joining the Indiana program. Since transferring from Minnesota last offseason, the sharpshooting Scalia’s best game before Monday came during Indiana’s win at Michigan on Jan. 23 when she scored 19 points with three 3-pointers.
[Related: Sara Scalia’s bounce-back game leads No. 6 Indiana women’s basketball past No. 13 Michigan]
Against Ohio State, however, Scalia showed off early some of the shooting prowess that made her such a big target in the transfer portal over the summer. She got on the board with her first 3-pointer with under a minute left in the first quarter, then quickly added a breakaway layup off an Ohio State turnover on the next possession.
Scalia kept the fast start going by hitting another triple on the first play of the second quarter. Then another. Then another. By the 6:40 mark of the second period, Scalia already had 14 points on four makes from beyond the arc and had yet to miss a shot, helping Indiana build an early 25-point lead against an Ohio State squad that at one point was the No. 2-ranked team in the nation.
Her hot shooting night also opened up space inside for senior forward Mackenzie Holmes, who has frequently faced double-teams from defenses trying to slow her down this season.
“I have to give credit to a player like Sarah, who opens up the floor for all of us,” Holmes, who recorded a career-high 33 points, said. “I mean, six of eight from three is insane and it's hard to double-team someone when you have someone like Sarah and Yarden and Sydney on the perimeter who will make you pay for doing that.”
Prior to her 19-point outing in Ann Arbor, Scalia had struggled in Big Ten games this season. However, since that game, she has played much better and been more impactful in recent weeks, which she attributed to an increase in confidence. While Scalia didn’t specify anything in particular that led to her boost in confidence, her coach gave credit to the transfer’s improved defense and commitment to playing both sides of the ball.
"Right now, you're seeing Sarah being a confident defender and doing what we’re asking her to do and having success, but I think that it is also maybe transferring over into what she's doing offensively for us right now,” Moren said. “And so, instead of just focusing on being a great shooter, she has to focus on defense as well, and I do think that the defensive end has given her great confidence.”
Moren and the Hoosiers will hope Scalia continues her hot shooting streak into the future as they enter the final stretch of their regular season schedule. She’ll get her first opportunity to back up her play on Thursday when Indiana welcomes No. 12 Michigan to Bloomington for an 8:30 p.m. matchup in Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall.
Follow reporters Will Foley (@foles24) and Matt Sebree (@mattsebree) and columnist Matt Press (@MattPress23) for updates throughout the Indiana women’s basketball season.