The game was never in question for the Hoosiers in their 85-51 first-round win over Charlotte at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall in Bloomington.
The No. 11 team in the nation and the No. 3 team in the Bridgeport region showed early and often why they’ve been ranked accordingly.
Chloe Moore-McNeil entered the game and immediately splashed a three-pointer and then drove the lane for a basket. Her quick five points sparked Indiana to go on an 11-1 run to close out the first quarter after a last-second Mackenzie Holmes put back.
Then the team picked up where they left off in the second quarter. They got off to a fast start courtesy of back-to-back jumpers from Grace Berger and Aleksa Gulbe. The 11-1 run extended to a 21-2 run.
“I don’t know that I saw anything extraordinary or special. I think that we just started finding some rhythm offensively. We were getting stops. Aleksa (Gulbe), I think, stepped out and hit a couple threes for us in that stretch just to kind of jump start us and get us going,” said head coach Teri Moren of the run.
“I don’t know that we did anything in particular, like I said, extra special. I just thought we found our rhythm offensively and we were certainly guarding and getting the stops we needed.”
Berger and Gulbe combined for 16 second-quarter points on 6-of-11 shooting. A Berger fade-away buzzer-beater gave her 12 first-half points, and the Hoosiers an 18-point lead heading into halftime. Gulbe ended the half with 11 points.
In the second half, the Hoosiers came out with the same intensity as the start of the game. Each starter found the net in the first four minutes of the game. They started the second-half shooting 8-of-10 in the third quarter.
Then Holmes broke out for her best game since returning from a knee injury. After just having four first-half points on 2-of-5 shooting, she found her rhythm. Holmes converted on 7-of-10 shots for 15 after the break. The 49ers simply had no answers for her.
“At the end of the day I just want to do whatever it takes to win, and so I just am trying to get better every single day,” said Holmes. “And my coaches and my teammates have been really pushing me to do so the past couple weeks, so I think it’s been super beneficial, and I’m just really happy to be here and to be moving to the next round.”
The trio of Holmes, Gulbe, and Berger combined for 52 points. Holmes ended the game with 19 total points and eight boards. Berger was just behind her with an 18-point, 6-rebound, and 6-assist performance. Gulbe added 15 points and 7 boards.
Altogether, the Hoosiers had 10 players who managed to score. On the 25 baskets that the team scored, 23 of them came off of assists. Nicole Cardaño-Hillary was the fourth Indiana player with double-digit scoring. She scored 11 points and added five assists.
“I thought our guard play was terrific. Grace Berger, Nikki (Cardaño-Hillary). I thought Chloe (Moore-McNeil) came in and gave us great minutes, and she just continues to improve and get better as the season has gone on,” added Moren.
“I thought we had a lot of really good things. When we have 23 or 20 plus assists and we’re sharing the ball like that, we can — we have the ability to put a lot of points on the board.”
The defense was also stout for Indiana. They held the 49ers to just 20-of-54 shooting from the field for 37 percent. They also managed just one three-pointer on their eight attempts.
IU also managed to force 14 turnovers. The turnovers led the Hoosiers to get easy baskets in transition, which helped spark their run. In total, Indiana scored 22 points off turnovers.
“I’ll go back and just say this: What’s going to carry us throughout this tournament will be our defense, our ability to defend and rebound,” claimed Moren.
The Hoosiers will face the winner of the No. 6 Kentucky Wildcats, No. 11 Princeton Tigers matchup. Earlier in the season, Indiana defeated the Wildcats 88-67 in mid-November at Assembly Hall.
Because they are a top-four seed, the site of their second-round matchup will also be Assembly Hall. 6,389 fans were in attendance for today’s event. And of course, the majority were Indiana supporters. It certainly had the feel of a home game for the Hoosiers with the sea of red and white, but a sprinkle of blue and green because of some Kentucky and Charlotte supporters.
“Eight years ago we set out to have several goals, and although some of them haven’t been checked off yet, some of them have. And this is just one of those, and we always have wanted to host because we know the importance of that,” explained Moren.
“We’ve been on the other side of having to travel to Notre Dame, having to travel all the way out to Oregon, and so I think there’s a true benefit to being able to host and have Hoosier Nation. Also just have our kids be in their own space, I think that’s real important for them.”
The Daily Hoosier –“Where Indiana fans assemble when they’re not at Assembly”