With a top-15 showdown against No. 15 Stanford University looming, Indiana women’s basketball looked to get a win under its belt by welcoming Eastern Illinois University to Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall. The Hoosiers season opener proceeded as planned, as the cream and crimson defeated the visiting Panthers 96-43 — Indiana’s fewest points allowed in a season opener since 2016.
Although the near triple-digit points may stand out, it was the Hoosiers’ play on the defensive end which served as the major talking point of the performance.
Indiana’s success in its 2022-23 campaign was largely a result of an offense which notched 80.9 points per game, earning the squad sixth best in average points per game in the country. However, while it may be unfair to call it a weakness, the Hoosiers were less dominant on the defensive end.
Indiana averaged 7.9 steals per game, placing it 148th in the country in that statistic. Although they allowed the fewest points in an offensive-centric Big Ten at 62.1 per game, the Hoosiers ranked 110th nationally. Yet in Thursday night’s season opener, Indiana exemplified what it means to play complete team defense.
“I think we all bought into the defensive game plan.” sophomore guard Lexus Bargesser said postgame. “There's even small things in this game we need to improve on, so we need to go into each and every game knowing personnel and our game plan.”
In addition to 10 steals and four blocks, the Hoosiers forced 20 total turnovers and held Eastern Illinois to just four total assists. Not only did the turnovers prevent points, but they also allowed Indiana to get run outs on the break, something the Hoosiers pride themselves in doing. Ultimately, Indiana tallied 30 points off the fast break, most of which stemmed from forced turnovers.
“We're super willing to run,” Bargesser added. “It helps us get ahead and we're going to need it in tighter games down the stretch.”
It hasn't been all sunshine and rainbows for the Hoosiers on defense, as they gave up 68 points in their sole preseason exhibition to Division II opponent Northwood University on Nov. 1. Head coach Teri Moren said she focused on defense in the practices following the exhibition matchup, which showed in the Hoosiers’ efforts against Eastern Illinois.
“I was very disappointed with the way we've been defending and how much better we have to be on that side of the ball,” Moren said. “So really that was my focus.”
Indiana’s defense showed some worrying signs in the early stages against the Panthers, allowing baskets on each of their first three possessions.
“I thought our defense was slow at first,” Moren said. “Then it started to pick up, I thought our intensity picked up as the game went on.”
The intensity Moren talked about was seen throughout the remainder of the game, as the Hoosiers would allow just 29 points across the final three quarters of play. That type of stifling defense will be hard to replicate when the Hoosiers travel to Palo Alto, California to take on the Stanford Cardinals on Sunday, but Indiana will certainly need a sound all-around performance to return home with the win.
The top-15 showdown will tip off at 5 p.m. and will be broadcast on ESPN.
Follow reporters Dalton James (@DaltonMJames) and Quinn Richards (@Quinn_richa), columnist Ryan Canfield (@rpcvsthewrld) and photographer Olivia Bianco (@theoliviabianco) for updates throughout the Indiana women’s basketball season.