By Skip Daley – South Central Indiana News Network
Saturday afternoon at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall was a tale of two offensive halves, as the 7th nationally ranked Indiana Hoosiers hosted Michigan State. This match-up was added to the calendar just a week ago, after having been previously postponed due to health and safety protocols. IU would win the tip-off and score quickly on one of Grace Berger’s patented mid-range pull-up jumpers, but the next 5 minutes, MSU had an 8-2 run.
The Hoosiers eventually regained the lead off of a Chloe Moore-McNeil 3-pointer with 1:43 remaining in the quarter. IU would not let go of this lead despite only shooting 8-24 from the field in the first half, and uncharacteristically missing 5 free throw shots. The dismal offensive stats throughout the first 20 minutes of play were overshadowed, however, by strong defensive play. Once again, Indiana’s defense kept them in the game until they could catch an offensive rhythm.
That Hoosier defensive aptitude included keeping Spartan Senior Guard Nia Clouden in check. Clouden was crowded by Indiana throughout the game, causing frustration and eventual foul trouble by the First Team All-Big Ten player, who averages 21 points per game this season.
The second half was all Indiana, and all Grace Berger.
“She was cookin’, right? She was cookin’!” Those were the words of IU Head Coach Teri Moren, with a huge smile, describing how Berger burst for a career high 29 points, and added 7 rebounds and 3 assists.
“It was nice to see her have a game like today,” Moren added. “She’s obviously been productive, but I don’t think that [Michigan State] had an answer for her in the second half . . . that was simply Grace being Grace.”
Berger’s second half display elevated the play of those around her. The Hoosiers fought harder off of the glass, reduced turnovers, and found the inside of the basket. Indiana shot with over 50% success in the second half and had 5 players wind up scoring in double digits for the game.
Berger had 29 points and 7 rebounds; Aleksa Gulbe had 13 points, 6 rebounds, and 3 blocks; Ali Patberg had 12 points, 6 rebounds, and 3 assists; Nicole Cardano-Hillary had 12 points, 4 rebounds, and 2 steals; and Chloe Moore-McNeil scored 10 points, off of the bench.
Perhaps some of the inspiration for the second half surge was IU’s All-American Junior Forward Mackenzie Holmes, who has been sidelined since the beginning of January due to a knee injury. Holmes is visibly the Hoosiers’ biggest cheerleader on the bench, providing her teammates encouragement and high-fives.
Coach Moren said that the staff challenges Holmes with a role she can play until she is able to return to the floor, “and that’s to instill good juice, enthusiasm, and energy to the post players.” The moral support that Holmes adds is evident by all of those at Assembly Hall.
It was also uplifting, before the game, to see Holmes on the court, stretching with her team for the first time in 5 weeks. The team has reported that her rehabilitation is moving strongly, giving hope to Hoosier Nation that she might return to her starting role in time for post-season play.
With Indiana now 18-3 and 10-1 in the Big Ten, they find themselves in first place in the conference, with 5 games remaining. Next up, Indiana takes to the road to play Nebraska at 7pm on Monday evening.