No. 15 IU women bounce back in B1G opener

Report via Stefan Krajisnik for the Indianapolis Star.

Teri Moren called out her upperclassmen after a midweek loss to Tennessee that handed No. 15 Indiana its second-straight loss heading into Big Ten play.

“We’re a veteran team,” she said after the loss on Thursday. “It’s not like I have freshmen and sophomores out there. I have seniors and juniors that should be better.”

The upperclassmen, particularly junior forward Aleksa Gulbe, answered the call. Behind Gulbe’s 18 points — 13 of which came in the first half — Indiana (3-2, 1-0) bounced back as its head coach said it would, en route to an 81-45 win against Nebraska (3-2, 1-1) to open conference play on Sunday at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall.

“I want to give them some ownership, as far as those seniors and juniors that have played a lot of minutes for us, in leading our basketball team,” Moren said postgame Sunday. “We’re gonna be way more successful when it’s led by the players than when it’s led by me and my staff. We’re here to help, assist and make sure we can help them prepare, but ultimately it comes down to them leading each other.”

Gulbe came out showing her ability to stretch the floor, shooting 3-of-4 from deep as part of a 6-of-18 3-point shooting performance from IU on the afternoon — significantly better from Indiana’s 2-of-27 performance against Tennessee.

Gulbe has scored in double-figures three times this season, but Sunday she added 12 boards for her first double-double of the season.

As Indiana bounced back, so did Gulbe’s frontcourt partner with Mackenzie Holmes who scored 16 points after a 1-of-9 shooting performance against Tennessee.

After not seeing much time together on the court last season, Sunday served as a reminder that they’re gaining comfort playing together and giving Indiana more scoring options.

“We love playing with each other,” Gulbe said. “I know where (Holmes) is gonna be. She knows where I’m gonna be.”

It appeared to be more of the same initially from Holmes and Indiana, leaving points at the rim and leading just 13-9 after the first quarter. But in the second quarter, the Hoosiers got it going.

Capped by a 15-0 run, Indiana stretched its lead to 16 going into halftime thanks in large part to players like Holmes and Ali Patberg (nine points and eight rebounds in 22 minutes) attacking the boards and pushing out in transition.

“That’s something we definitely hang our hats on is those quick hits ahead,” Holmes said. “It’s something that we work on every day in practice.”

The strong play from familiar faces on Indiana’s roster opened the door for bench players to get crucial playing time in conference play after a shortened nonconference slate.

Freshman forward Kiandra Browne saw her first significant minutes of the season in the loss to Tennessee, scoring three points in nine minutes.

She showed that small sample size was no fluke with her performance against the Cornhuskers, recording the first double-double of her career with 12 points and 10 rebounds.

“Every time she steps on the court, she’s gonna give 100% effort,” Holmes said of Browne. “She’s gonna do the dirty work. She’s a blue-collar player. She loves getting on the floor. She loves going for boards. She loves the physical aggression of basketball which I think makes her a great fit for Big Ten play.”

The fourth quarter also offered some pressure-less minutes for Nicole Cardano-Hillary who was making just her second appearance of the season since being cleared to play by the NCAA. After needing to shout “Me!” to grab Patterson’s attention, Cardano-Hillary sent home an open corner 3 for her first points as a Hoosiers with eight minutes to go in the game.

After struggling (zero points, 0-of-3 shooting) against Tennessee, Cardano-Hillary had five points and a steal in 16 minutes Sunday — giving Indiana a taste of what she was able to do at George Mason when she was named the Atlantic 10 Player of the Year in the 2018-19 season.

“She has a very short memory, which is great,” Moren said. “We saw Nicole trying to be more aggressive tonight. She’s still trying to get her feet wet in a real game. She’s off to a good start (in terms of) how we can depend on her for another guard off the bench that can give us some scoring.”

Moren noted the struggles of having to cancel games and stay out of competitions for a week or longer due to the pandemic, but if all goes according to plan — which is never guaranteed — Indiana can begin building some rhythm to its season.

IU is scheduled to play its first road conference game Wednesday against Minnesota before taking on Illinois at home on New Year’s Eve.

“I know our group is excited just about Big Ten play starting and feeling like, hopefully, there will be some normalcy for us as we move forward,” Moren said.

11 comments

  1. They looked like the team we remembered. Best outcome of the game, besides the win was the major minutes the rest of the team got to play and not looking too bad in the process. Nebraska having only 7 players was a bummer for them. During the first quarter IU looked out of control at times – playing to fast but they got that under control. Grace and Penn had a strange game for themselves, just kind of off. I should have looked at the box scores before saying that.

  2. Perspective: a short handed Nebraska team that Creighton beat by 16. Better but not sure how much was learned to how much better. However it was better with energy and especially putting the ball in the basket including shooting. Again, this is the kind of team that needs to play games to develop chemistry and rhythm. IU Ladies needed to play a few more games before KY and Tennessee and may had a better outcome. IU Ladies did pretty much what they should have done against Nebraska.

  3. Good comments by T. Moren about leadership from upper class players and it seems Mac is one of those leadership players also.

  4. You sort of feel sorry that Neb. only had 7 players to use but they were coming into a frustrated program determined to get back on the good side of things. It wasnt a perfect outing overall but when you look back at the whole picture, the two losses may end being a good thing to help them learn from and get better from. It was also a good thing IU was able to use only reserves in the entire 4th qtr, the staff got a chance to see who will be able to help in the long run. You gotta love the play of Browne, she values the ball like not many Ive seen, try to tie her up and you could get your arm broke . Coaches may need to tone that down a hair dont want her to get crazy with that , but you do like it. Nikki is gonna shoot the ball when open its what shes always done and is confident with it. It just doesnt seem like IU is the best team in the B1G with Maryland and Rutgers shooting the 3 like the are, but they will get their chance on Jan 4. Almost forgot Browne was 6 for 6 from the ft line that alone could get her even more playing time .

  5. Brown is a very good player. I don’t think both losses were good learning experience because IU Ladies should be beyond that. However, big ten conference not being among elites IU Ladies will be in race and finish in top 3 or 4 possibly winning conference title and tournament.

  6. Problem is they were not beyond that and apparently Morens frustrations lit a fire among the upperclassmen and Mack. This team was still not clicking on all cylinders and even when they are doubt they can beat Maryland. The only hope I have is that our defense can make a difference. So prove me wrong ladies , I dare you.

  7. The Nebraska win can’t be fools gold because other than a 30 plus win doesn’t mean much because of Nebraska situation.

  8. I commend Coach Moren for playing so many subs in the fourth quarter.
    Have to believe that the IU women have a much deeper bench than we’re used to.

  9. Just heard on replay of the radio show that Paige Price from
    Australia arrives on 12/26. From watching her tapes, she should help with outside shooting.

  10. looking forward to seeing Price play. I have seen her tapes and she appears to be a really, really good player who should help us in a big way! It appears that her ability will make us a much improved team? We will see? Go Hoosiers!!

  11. Certainly Nikki can do some things when in the game , but I cant stress enough how impressed I was with Kiandra Browne, a true battler but most impressed with her ft shooting 6-6 for a freshman speaks for itself, not only that but she should be a senior in high school. Loved Moren’s comment about her battles with Mack in practice, that will only make them better. Also looking forward to Price’s first moment on the court, watched her vids , looks like a scrapper and big guard at 6’1″.

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