No. 20 IU women too much for Illinois, 79-56

Mackenzie Holmes could do nothing to stop Illinois’ Eva Rubin from laying the ball in for two points.

So the 6-foot-3 Indiana sophomore center put her head down and she ran, making beeline for the basket at the other end of the floor. Eight seconds later, Grace Berger sent a pass into Holmes, who caught the ball and laid it in with her left hand for two points of her own.

Such was the story on Thursday afternoon at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall, where the No. 20 Hoosiers were far from perfect but more than good enough to claim a 79-56 women’s basketball victory over the visiting Illini.

“I thought today we had some good moments, but it was a little frustrating,” IU coach Teri Moren said. “We’d get to a point where we were doing good things offensively then do something silly defensively. We couldn’t put long enough stretches together where we were good offensively and defensively for any amount of time.”

Sustained success may have been elusive, but the bursts still buried Illinois (2-3, 0-2 Big Ten), playing its first game in three weeks due to COVID postponement. The Illini had nine turnovers in the first quarter and 25 for the game.

Indiana jumped to a 17-3 lead in the first quarter to assert its dominance, although it took nearly eight minutes to build that margin in a halting fashion. That was still progress after some less satisfying starts on the scoreboard this season.

“It’s something we’ve been working and talking about, getting out to a faster start,” said Holmes, who paced the Hoosiers with 18 points. “Extending the lead early, that’s important for us. We’re going to be playing tough teams night in and night out, so we can’t get ourselves in a hole early.”

Ali Patberg helped aid the effort with seven of her 11 points in the opening quarter, while George Mason transfer Nicole Cardano-Hillary provided a pair of 3s off the bench en route to the first double-digit scoring game of her Indiana career after becoming eligible two weeks ago thanks to the NCAA granting a blanket waiver to transfers.

“We need her scoring and we need, as I continue to say, guys off the bench to impact the game,” Moren said. “Where it starts is on the defensive side of the ball, and then what they give us offensively will be an added bonus for us.

“Nikki was a tremendous player at George Mason, a volume shooter, a volume offensive player that is extremely aggressive. She’s doing much better defensively, is more interested in guarding right now and that’s where we’ve seen improvement the most. I’m not surprised she can knock down shots. We’ve seen that in practice and that’s why we recruited her.”

Cardano-Hillary would add another 3 off a baseline out of bounds play in the second quarter, part of a 15-4 run to end the half and end all doubt as to the game’s outcome.

“It’s been very exciting to be able to play this year,” said Cardano-Hillary, who finished with 14 points. “It wasn’t supposed to be this way, but I’m glad it is. I’m just glad to help my team any way I can.

“… I’m here to help the team win, so whatever I can do to do that, I will do.”

Holmes provided the primary punch in that closing run with eight of the 15 points, wearing down the Illini and settling down herself.

“She was pressing a little bit, so I was trying to get her to slow down,” Moren said. “We anticipated them doubling, as they did last year. She is a much better player than a year go with experience, but she was anticipating a lot of double teams. One of the things you have to caution bigs is, one, relax and, two, make the right play out of it. There were moments she could’ve shot but passed out or a time she traveled, just being more passive than we wanted or needed. That’s partly my fault because I put it in her head she’s going to see a lot of doubles.”

Even if she slowed down in the halfcourt, Holmes knew her speed in the fullcourt would pay off.

“I know if I don’t get an open look running the floor, I know my guards will,” she said. “It’s something I’ve found important and helps in the flow of the offense. The guards are looking for me and regardless if I get the ball or not, we get an open shot.”

Some of those open shots went to Grace Berger in the second half, as she was the fourth Hoosier in double figures with 15 points, eight after halftime.

Indiana steadily pushed the lead out to as many as 31 points en route to starting 3-0 in Big Ten play with a showdown at No. 14 Maryland looming on Monday, making for some mixed feelings heading into the new year.

“Really pleased with how we were guarding but there wasn’t a stretch where we’re really clicking on both sides,” Moren said. “… I feel good about finishing up 2020 with a win.”


  1. T. Moren assess and talks about the IU Ladies basketball road win and team vs A.M. talking IU men’s basketball home win and team after their last games, respectively.

  2. Beating Maryland @ Maryland continues to be a tall order for IU Ladies basketball.
    Maryland coach is going to get in her team’s face and challenge them.

  3. You gotta love Grace Waggoner. She played 4 minutes and scored 6 points, grabbed 3 rebounds and drew a charge. For the 3rd consecutive B1G game all 13 available players played.

  4. scwartzie,
    You’ve been reading my mail! What does Grace have to do to get more playing time? She was an important player towards the end of last year, and now only gets late game minutes. Color me confused.
    Maryland scares me, let’s GO IU!

  5. Another solid win at home against a team we should handle easily. Great to see Cardano-Hillary play well again! She has become an excellent pick up for the Hoosiers! I love Grace Waggoner and her incredible hustle. Her strength is her defensive play so it is really cool to see her start to score. Since we have NEVER beaten Maryland, it is time for that to come to fruition! Player for player we are as good as them this year, it is time for years of frustration to come to an end! Beat Maryland!! Go Hoosiers!

  6. Nat, I mentioned in a post a couple of weeks ago that Moren has a tendency to short certain players minutes that seem to deserve more playing time. Waggoner seems to be one of those players! As I said before, how can you develop depth when players like Waggoner deserve more time but seem to be shorted. Moren seems to be guilty of being a curmudgeon when it comes to playing time for certain players? Especially when those certain players preform at a high standard?

  7. Maryland and Northwestern only played 7 players yesterday and both lack the depth of our Hoosiers. Maryland is allowing 84.5 ppg in B1G play. They are scoring 93.5 ppg. The Hoosiers are allowing 51.7. Something has to give.

  8. It will be seen if IU Ladies have worked off their rust debacles vs TN and KY. Grace Waggoner will play more, especially if she starts to score.

  9. Grace seems to know playing the good defense is how she will get on floor , but against Ill. she was making the hard cuts to get open at the rim , got the ball and scored and also hit the ft, which she missed badly in the last game. Nikki is turning out to be much better than I thought she would be this quickly. What happened to the so-called arrival of the Price girl , is covid the reason why she is not here yet. So next up is the Maryland game , IU will need to be hitting on all cylinders and playing great defense, cant have the unforced TO they had multiple times in the Illinois game.

    1. Steve,
      Paige Price has arrived. She was in street clothes Thursday. Keep in mind she’s only been in town a few days. I expect it will take a couple of weeks, at least, to get her up to speed. I wouldn’t expect to see her play much. She’s just getting a half-season headstart on next year.

  10. Jeremy– Thanks for the heads up , glad to know that she is here. Yes obviously she has to learn the campus how to get around and all that let alone all the BBall stuff. Sure all her teammates will help her get up to snuff on everything.

  11. Duke women’s basketball team C/A’ed remainder of season. Notification on 12/25 so might be general knowledge but I just found out. Apparently Duke was Covid tested daily but other ACC teams 3 times weekly. Duke team does not want to play teams not daily tested.

  12. Anyone who watched the Mich. at NW game last night saw how dangerous Mich. is. won by 21 at NW but led by as much as 35. You expected NW to bounce back after the Neb. upset but didnt happen. Does IU belong in the race for the best teams at the top, we’ll find out tonight at Mary. After looking up the schedule neither Mary. or IU plays Mich untill deep into Feb. With Hillmon avg. 24 pts a game they could still be undefeated at that time and highly ranked top 10 at least.

  13. Things change. Though surprisingly last year Michigan played terrible at home against IU Ladies as IU Ladies dominated Michigan.

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