IU women’s wrap: Minnesota

WHAT HAPPENED: Indiana started five freshmen at the close of a tough stretch of three games in five days and held off Minnesota in overtime, 83-78, before an announced 4,532 at Assembly Hall. The win snapped a three-game losing streak for the Hoosiers and secured at least a .500 season for the program. In a game with 18 lead changes, three Indiana freshmen — Larryn Brooks, Taylor Agler and Alexis Gassion — scored all 13 points in overtime to clinch the win. A 3-pointer from Brooks with 53 seconds to play put Indiana up for good at 79-76 before Agler’s two made free throws provided a pivotal three-point margin with 12 seconds to play. Minnesota’s potential All-American guard Rachel Banham missed a last-ditch 3-pointer and Brooks sealed it with two free throws on the other end. The win gives the Hoosiers 15 wins, marking the program’s most since 2008-09. It was also their second conference win, matching last year’s season total.

WHO MADE IT HAPPEN: Indiana’s freshmen. This game belonged to six 18- and 19-year-olds. Lyndsay Leikem and Jenn Anderson made their first career starts, rounding out the starting five alongside Brooks, Agler and Alexis Gassion. The five accounted for 83 percent of Indiana’s scoring, with each, save for Anderson, recording at least 32 minutes.

Anderson went 3-for-8 from the field for six points, along with five rebounds (four offensive). Leikem scored a career-high 10 points on 4-of-9 shooting with four rebounds and an assist. The frontcourt duo replaced Sasha Chaplin and Tabitha Gerardot, who combined to shoot only 8 percent in Friday’s embarrassing loss at Purdue.

“We got back off the mat, we lived in the moment and we fought after a 15-minute stretch at Purdue where we weren’t really happy with our execution, but also our fight,” IU coach Curt Miller said. “So, for us to step back up after a really, really long five days and win tonight starting five freshmen … again, I don’t know when, if ever, a team in the Big Ten has started five freshmen. To win a Big Ten game today was a big step for this program.”

KEY STAT: Indiana shot 41 percent from 3-point range, while hitting 12 3-pointers, good enough for second-most in a single game in program history. Eight of those baskets gave the Hoosiers a lead, so they made them count.

QUOTE OF THE NIGHT: “We just got beat by the most points in my tenure here. By (our) arch rival. Our team has been pretty mature through our wins in non-conference to step back up, step back up, but you wonder how young teams are going to respond when they’re really, really beat down. Then it was by your arch rival? For them to step back up after one day shows a lot of maturity for a really young team.”
— Indiana coach Curt Miller on what makes the win special for his program.

MIKE’S ‘WHAT THE HECK?’ MOMENT OF THE NIGHT: Miller watched his team miss layups on back-to-back possessions over a span of 30 seconds with about five minutes to play. Furious, he ripped off his sport coat — the signature move of an incensed coach and a complete portrait of frustration — and coached the rest of the game without it. Now, that’s not too uncommon among guys in the coaching ranks. What made it funny, if not a little ridiculous, was that Miller’s dress shirt came completely untucked somewhere in the process. So, over the final 10 minutes of a contest that went to overtime, there was Miller looking the part of a madman. Moments like this remind me of Miller’s first media day as IU coach, when he told the assembled reporters that he has a fiery coaching style. At the time I thought, ‘Oh. OK.’ But he meant it. He really meant it. Watching the game is one thing, but when you come to an Indiana women’s basketball contest, be sure to train your eyes on Miller for at least a few minutes. He’s vocal, he’s demonstrative and, really, quite funny.

WHAT DOES IT MEAN?: As I mentioned in my story for Monday’s paper, there are no must-win games at this point in the season. But this one meant a lot to a young Hoosier team still learning how to win in the Big Ten. Had this one gone the other way, despite overtime, it would have left an empty feeling in the heart of IU’s program, especially after a forgettable, embarrassing loss 36 hours earlier in West Lafayette. But Indiana salvaged a game over its tough three-game swing and did so in interesting fashion.

Now, Indiana’s starting lineup becomes something to watch.

Jenn Anderson has clearly come a long way since I first saw her play during the Indiana-Kentucky All-Star series this past summer. She also has a long way to go before she’s a true starting-caliber frontcourt player in the Big Ten. The story of her development will be an interesting storyline to follow over the next three-plus seasons. It will also be interesting to see whether her starting assignment is permanent or merely temporary. With the impending departures of Sasha Chaplin, Simone Deloach, Tabitha Gerardot and Milika Taufa, Anderson absolutely has to develop enough to give Indiana at least 15-25 minutes a game over the next couple years. Miller has done an excellent job recruiting guards and wings to fit his system through his first year-plus on the job. But the one thing he absolutely must address in future classes is adding a top-flight frontcourt player(s). I’m talking about someone like a Stephanie Mavunga (North Carolina) or a Taya Reimer (Notre Dame) — in-state products who have both premier athleticism and skill. Of course, nabbing those two in the last recruiting class was not likely, but he can’t afford to let similar future post talent slip out of the state — or to Notre Dame and Purdue. But I digress.

Leikem is also an interesting player to keep an eye on. She should be the heir to Gerardot at the stretch-4 position. Leikem has length and athleticism, she can rebound and, perhaps most importantly, she’s a threat on the perimeter. There’s a lot of upside there for what Miller wants out of his high ball-screen system. Her inclusion in Sunday’s lineup was a big step forward and a big message from the coach.

Miller went into more detail about the Gerardot-for-Leikem switch after the game.

“Some of that has to do with the schedule. Some of that is coach’s decision,” he said. “I need to play Tabitha more. She deserves to play more. She’s reliable. She played well tonight. Lyndsay is a little bit longer defensively. We rolled the dice. Lyndsay made a couple 3s, so we rolled the dice that maybe she’d throw in a big 3 for us. But Tabitha made her big 3. Tonight we got 3s from our 4 position. When we do that, our offense works a lot better. And that’s why a stretch-4, as we call it, is really important in the way we play.”

With five freshmen in the starting lineup and another, Karlee McBride, adding solid minutes off the bench, Sunday was yet another glimpse into the future. The win gives Indiana a confidence boost heading into State College, Pa., where they’ll face Penn State and Big Ten Preseason Player of the Year Maggie Lucas on Wednesday. It doesn’t get easier. In fact, it gets much, much more difficult. But it also continues to get interesting.

I’m looking to see when the last time a Big Ten team started five freshmen. In a conference game, no less. More on that to come.

NOTABLE:
— Sunday was Indiana’s fifth game of the season with single digit turnovers (9).
— The Hoosiers outrebounded the Gophers 48-37. 20 of those came on the offensive glass, where Minnesota grabbed only second-chance boards.
— Larryn Brooks not only scored 25 points, she clinched the double-double with a career-high 10 assists. It was the sixth 20-point game for Brooks, who added six rebounds and two steals.
— Taylor Agler’s 20 points were a season high. She also set a career best with four 3-pointers.
— Simone Deloach paced Indiana with eight rebounds, including six offensive boards.

Video above courtesy of IU Athletics

3 comments

  1. Glad to see the women’s team “get up” after falling down through three games. Congrats to the coach, staff and players for learning from your mistakes and beating Minnesota.

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