Ten games into the season, IU women’s basketball finds itself in a situation with two conflicting but equally true dynamics.
The Hoosiers (10-0, 2-0) are still figuring out who they can be, especially with Grace Berger sidelined indefinitely with a knee injury. Without her, the starting lineup includes three players who weren’t on the team last season. Forward Mackenzie Holmes has become the go-to scoring option, and the rest of the team is still in the feeling-out process of what it can and should contribute around her.
Within that starting five, IU is also undeniably talented and capable of winning games even as it builds chemistry on the fly. That was the case Thursday against Penn State.
Indiana slogged through the first 20 minutes of the game and trailed at halftime. The Hoosiers committed 17 turnovers and struggled with Penn State’s full-court press. They still won handily, 67-58, to remain undefeated.
“We are still a work in progress when it comes to being able to play with each other, how we can be efficient, how we can still score the ball when Mack does see those triples and those double teams,” coach Teri Moren said. “The great thing about our team is that we do feel like we are balanced. And so we do have guys on the outside that can shoot it. (It) makes us hard to guard.”
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One of Holmes’ favorite basketball players is former Iowa forward Luka Garza. Moren has used him as an example of how she wants the senior to adjust to the increased attention from defenses: passing decisively out of the post when double teams come, spitting seeds back out to the perimeter to set up now-open 3-point shooters.
Penn State threw a variety of looks at her, at one point surrounding her with four bodies. Holmes finished with 18 points and 10 rebounds, but Moren doesn’t think she’s yet in a comfortable enough spot operating with multiple defenders on her.
Meanwhile, the rest of the team, particularly the backcourt sans Berger, is learning how to move without the ball and best play around Holmes.
"We need to be more aggressive, and we can still get it into (Holmes),” guard Chloe Moore-McNeil said. “That just means we gotta move without the ball, cut without the ball.”
Sara Scalia, one of two transfers in the starting lineup, was primarily a point guard for three seasons at Minnesota but has played off the ball at IU. Her 3-point stroke has been as advertised, but she’s still finding her place in the offense beyond being a spot-up shooter. With Berger out, much of the responsibility of running the offense has gone to Moore-McNeil.
“There’s times where I feel like Sara’s sort of running away from the action,” Moren said. “What we need her to do is be another solid, disciplined ball handler out there for us.”
Without Berger, Penn State’s full-court pressure and Indiana’s unforced errors resulted in 12 turnovers in the first half. It led to more adjustments; tweaks to see what works, what the Hoosiers can and can’t do as they paint the wings while the plane is in the air.
After halftime, they stopped trying to capitalize immediately off of the Nittany Lions’ aggressiveness. Instead of attempting to break the press and turn it into a quick layup, IU slowed down and got into its offense after crossing the halfcourt line. Indiana gave the ball away four times in the last two quarters.
“Well, they’re not always pretty,” Moren said. “We’ve had a few of those.”
Luckily for her and the rest of the team, it hasn’t mattered to this point. IU has had enough firepower to win ugly when things aren’t entirely clicking and dominate when they are.The conference season has begun, but there are still greater challenges awaiting the Hoosiers, likely in March. Anything beyond that could depend on how well the core develops — and grows comfortable with — each other.
This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: IU women's basketball overcomes sloppiness, beats Penn State