Indiana Women’s Basketball faces Connecticut in the Sweet Sixteen tomorrow afternoon. Here’s everything you need to know about the Huskies and what the Hoosiers are saying prior to the game:
Tale of the Tape
Indiana enters Saturday’s game as the #3-seed in the Bridgeport region. The Hoosiers are 24-8 on the year and were 11-5 in Big Ten play (not including their run to the Big Ten Championship game, where they fell to Iowa). So far in the tournament they’ve taken care of #13-seed Charlotte and #11-seed Princeton on home court at Assembly Hall.
Connecticut enters as the #2-seed in the region. The Huskies are 27-5 on the year and finished 16-1 in Big East conference play. They finished 1st in the Big East for the 2nd-straight regular season (9th if you count their AAC days), and won the Big East Tournament for the 2nd-straight year as well (9th straight too). They defeated #15-seed Mercer and #7-seed Central Florida to get to this point in the tourney.
The Hoosiers are making their 2nd-consecutive Sweet Sixteen appearance, while the Huskies are making their 28th. Here’s what IU Head Coach Teri Moren had to say about facing the sport’s poster school:
“If you’re not having to compete against them, you really enjoy watching them play because they play what I think is pretty basketball. Everybody likes to watch pretty basketball with their cutting and their ability to pass it and so forth. They have terrific players.
We do know the magnitude of this game. . . As you all know, I have a veteran group and experienced group, so I don’t know if it does matter that it’s UConn, but it could be any other name across the chest. We just know that we want to keep this thing going as long as we can.
But to say that we have a tremendous amount of respect for UConn — we know the task, right. We know how big of a game this is.”
It’s UConn. Coach Moren knows there no sense in hiding from who they are so she doesn’t, but she also makes some valid points about how seasoned and experienced the Hoosiers are. Indiana upset #1-seed NC State in the Sweet Sixteen last year. They’re comfortable being the underdog, and I think the fact that they’ve been here before will allow IU to play as loose as ever tomorrow afternoon. If they lose, it’ll be because UConn was the better team, not because they beat themselves.
On The Court
UConn is one of the most efficient teams in the nation. Their field goal percentage of 48.3 is good for second in the land, slotting them below just the Iowa Hawkeyes. That’s bad news for IU. The Hoosiers went 0-3 against Iowa this year because of the high-percentage chances and second chances they gave up to Center Monika Czinano. If Indiana is going to beat UConn, they’ll need to limit the Huskies chances by playing opportunistic defense and grabbing as many defensive boards as possible:
“Then probably the biggest key for us tomorrow will be keeping them off the offensive glass. UConn is not a team that you can give multiple opportunities to. If you do, they make you pay.
We have to be really solid in the half court. Again, I talked about their back-cutting, I talked about their ability to pass and share the ball. So a lot of what we have to do is protect the paint, keep our person above us, not get beat on back-cuts, and make them take contested long twos.
That’s the game plan going in, and if they have to take a whole bunch of outside jump shots, we feel like we may give ourselves a chance.”
After hearing Coach Moren’s overview of the gameplan, one should expect the Hoosiers to pack it in defensively. The rebounding battle between Mackenzie Holmes and Dorka Juhász will be pivotal and likely take center stage, but there are some other intriguing matchups worth noting too. There’s 7th-year legend Ali Patberg vs. Sophomore phenom Paige Bueckers, there’s the duel between dynamic guards Grace Berger and Azzi Fudd, and there will be the battle of attrition between Nicole Cardaño-Hillary and whomever she ends up guarding. If the Hoosiers pull it out I’d expect a timely steal or two from NCH.
One interesting subplot to follow in this one will be the play of UConn Forward Dorka Juhász. The Hungarian Grad Transfer played her first three years of college ball at Ohio State, achieving First Team All-Big Ten honors during her last two years in the scarlet and gray. As a former Buckeye, she’s the only Husky with real experience against the Hoosiers. She’s also friends with IU Forward and fellow European Aleksa Gulbe:
“Yeah, so I’m from Latvia and I have been playing for the youth national teams. . . When we played Hungary, she was always there. So we’ve played against each other a couple of times, plenty of times. And now coming to America I see her at Ohio State, and it’s a funny thing. I don’t know if she likes if I say this out loud. She texted me when the brackets came out — no, actually after the first round, she texted me, and she was like, I thought I was going to get away from you guys.”
Gulbe laughed at reporters’ inquiries on the friendship between the two today, but she’ll have to be all business tomorrow. It’ll be interesting to see how Juhász handles the Hoosier defense. She’s been successful against IU in the past, and it’s fair to assume that she’s been using her familiarity with current IU players to help her teammates develop scouting reports. The effectiveness of her knowledge will be huge if UConn wants to hurdle the Hoosiers, continuing on to add to their NCAA record with a 12th National Title.
It’s a double-edged sword though. TM knows how to coach against Juhász, and has been instructing her post players to “get a body on the inside of her and box her out”. That much will help IU slow her down when she has the ball, but her growth as a passer could cause them problems. She’s become a facilitator within Head Coach Geno Auriemma’s offense, and it’s worked. Her 54 assists this year are more than she had in a single year at OSU (33), so the Hoosiers will have to play the Hungarian straight up.
Don’t count out Indiana just yet though. The Hoosiers are big, fast, strong, and seasoned. They’ve gone through the ringer of Big Ten tackle basketball and lived to tell the tale. They’re likely the toughest team left and they can beat anyone, regardless of reputation.
It’s UConn, it’s IU, it’s gonna be good. Bail on freezing-cold Quals early and tune into ESPN from the comfort and warmth of your own home. Tip is set for 2pm. Go Hoosier.
BONUS COOL THING: Due to the crowd noise at this “neutral site” game in Bridgeport, Connecticut, Teri Moren announced today that Guard Nicole Cardaño-Hillary will be calling IU’s sets from the floor. Hoping for NCH triples and Grace Berger isos all afternoon.