It was one of the worst offensive outings of the season, an afternoon of bricks, clanks and miscues that put Indiana in a precarious position away from home. And with two of IU’s three best players struggling through Sunday’s trip to Illinois, the Illini found an opportunity to put a scare into the Hoosiers.
But that’s all it was — a scare. With Illinois threatening in the final minutes, veteran guards Ali Patberg and Nicole Cardaño-Hillary took over and carried No. 15 Indiana across the finish line in a 58-50 win at the State Farm Center in Champaign.
“That was ugly,” IU coach Teri Moren said.
Indeed, it was.
Although Indiana led for the final 32:53 of regulation, stretching its advantage to as many as 18 points late in the second quarter, Illinois chipped away over the middle of the second half and cut IU’s lead to one with under three minutes to play.
From there, Patberg stopped Illinois’ 8-0 run with a much-needed jumper, and Cardaño-Hillary followed with a layup through traffic to help the Hoosiers regain separation. At the line, Patberg sealed the eight-point win with three free throws in the final 44 seconds.
Patberg scored a team-high 16 points and Cardaño-Hillary added 11 points for Indiana, which has now won four in a row and eight of its last nine.
“As I said to our group, they are not always pretty,” Moren said. “Sometimes you just have to find ways and grind it out. We got in some foul trouble and didn’t shoot it particularly well from outside the arc. We had a couple young ladies, Mackenzie (Holmes) and Grace Berger, who struggled. Two out of the big three struggled today, so we had to find offense elsewhere. I thought Aleksa (Gulbe), when she came in there, gave us a nice little shot in the arm even though she sat for a while for foul trouble. I thought Nicole did a few nice things today and so did AP. They continued to stay aggressive.”
IU shot just 31.6% from the field — its lowest success rate of the season. Berger managed to get 10 points, but shot just 4-for-11 while committing three turnovers. Holmes, meanwhile, had maybe the toughest day of her career. The sophomore missed 15 of the 16 shots she took, finishing with seven points after going 5-for-6 at the line.
It was a tough third quarter that put the Hoosiers on shaky footing, a period that saw IU make only two of its 15 field goal attempts from inside the arc. For the game, IU made only eight of its 21 layups.
And yet, IU was able to hold on thanks to the work of Patberg and Cardaño-Hillary down the stretch. It helped, too, that the Hoosiers outscored their hosts 21-12 during the second quarter to give themselves some padding. The highlight of that second frame was a 12-0 Hoosier run that saw Cardaño-Hillary get two buckets and record two steals.
Although Indiana posted a season-high 30 free throw attempts, it made only 66% of them. Gulbe contributed eight points and Kiandra Browne had six points off the bench.
“It is a win, and two weeks from now nobody will hear how we played here. It will just show up as a win,” Moren said. “As I mentioned, they are not always pretty.”