Some IU women’s basketball notes ahead of tonight’s Penn State game

Indiana’s stretch run is nothing short of difficult.

The good news for the Hoosiers is that there are six occasions to bolster their postseason resume, beginning with tonight’s big game against No. 11 Penn State at Assembly Hall. In today’s paper, I wrote about how IU is trying to stay focused on the rebuilding process — this season’s original goal — without getting lost in the hyperbole and excitement of a possible tournament bid.

So, ahead of tonight’s game, I wanted to empty my notebook and share a few of Curt Miller’s insights into the Nittany Lions.

Indiana has reason for optimism despite losing at State College last month. The Hoosiers held the Lions to 65 points on Jan. 22, marking Penn State’s lowest scoring output of the Big Ten season. But that was also a game in which, Miller concedes, neither team played particularly well.

“Our kids have been shown tape and have been talked to over and over that we didn’t see their best effort,” Miller said. “We know that with Dara Taylor in a little bit of foul trouble in the first half, they never pushed tempo the way that they’re capable of. In the second half, they had a significant lead in the teens and kind of slowed the game down and managed possessions. We didn’t see the explosive Penn State offense that we know that they are capable of. So, we talk a lot about ‘Don’t be fooled.’ We didn’t get their best effort either.”

Of course, the talk about any game against Penn State begins with the Lions’ defense. Penn State is holding opponents to a .354 shooting percentage, which tops the Big Ten. With loads of length and size — their back line features two players at 6-foot-3 and another at 6-foot-5 — the Lions are known to throw multiple defensive looks at opponents.

They started last month’s game against Indiana with a man-to-man look before committing to a zone. What they do especially well is rotating defenders onto the wings and, as IU freshman guard Taylor Agler said Wednesday, they’re not simply big underneath the basket. Those rotations allow them to play long and rangy at the 3-point line, too.

“I thought in the first game that we didn’t attack aggressively their man-to-man early on and it set the tempo where they were dictating at the defensive end,” Miller said. “We weren’t happy with where we were getting our entry passes into our offense. We were starting our offense 25-30 feet from the hoop all night long. So that kind of set the tone for every possession. We need to do a better job of getting in attack mode against their man-to-man and making their defense really work. When they went to zone I thought we were a little stagnant all night, and they have a huge back line, but you have to be able to get the ball inside at times and not just move the ball around the perimeter. The bottom line is that against man and zone, their length forces you to make tough shots and some contested shots. In order to upset a team this talented, you have to make some tough shots throughout the night. We’ve seen some things on film that we think we can correct and our goal is to be better at it.”

As Miller alluded to, Indiana chucked up a ridiculous amount of 3-point attempts in the last meeting, finishing 9-for-30 from beyond the arc. Those perimeter shots accounted for over half of the Hoosiers’ offensive attempts for the game.

So, tonight, Miller is hoping to see a little more balance and composure.

“We felt like we took too many 3s in the game last time,” he said. “It wasn’t just against their big zone. It was also man-to-man where we got pushed out too far from the basket. We’re coming off a game where points in the paint were a big reason why we won. So, we’ve got to continue. It’s not easy to score in the paint against them, but we have to try. We pride ourselves in guarding the arc. The thing that Penn State won’t do is it won’t force 3s. They’re dedicated to throwing it in the paint. That’s why they go to the foul line. They throw it into the paint, drive it into the paint and, with the exception of Maggie Lucas, all of their 3s are a bonus because they’re really trying to get a higher percentage shot. We want to guard the arc still, but we know how badley they want the ball in the paint.”