March 6, 2022
Big Ten Women’s Basketball Tournament: Day Four
Iowa and Indiana are peaking at the right time
INDIANAPOLIS — After Saturday’s semifinal bouts, one thing became clear: Iowa and Indiana are peaking at the right time.
Both teams took care of business at the Gainbridge Fieldhouse to advance to the conference championship. During the tournament, they have elevated their play on opposite sides of the ball. Iowa’s defense allowed 71.4 points per game in the regular season but in Indianapolis they have only surrendered 62.5 PPG in their two matchups. Meanwhile, Indiana’s scoring output hasn’t been eye-opening but the offense is much more fluid with Mackenzie Holmes looking more healthy the last two games.
Heading into Sunday’s championship, Indiana won’t have a clear home court advantage despite being just over an hour away from Indianapolis. The Hawkeyes fan base showed up in the program’s first two games and easily had the biggest crowd out of all of the non-Indiana Big Ten teams. I expect both fan bases to give this a March Madness-like feel as Hoosier nation made its presence known in three games here as well.
The result of today’s game is beside the point; these two teams are looking like the best versions of themselves (or close to it) as the NCAA tournament looms over the conference tournament finale. Here are my takeaways from the semifinals, regardless of what happens in the championship.
Indiana’s offense opens up when Mackenzie Holmes gets going
This might seem pretty obvious given how the Hoosiers’ offense has looked without her compared to when Holmes is on the floor. However, the difference in results is vast when Holmes starts to get hot in the post. Indiana has gotten strong performances from Chloe Moore-McNeil and Ali Patberg in the tournament because of how much the floor opens up when Holmes is a threat inside. Same goes for Nicole Cardaño-Hillary, who put up 16 points, 10 rebounds and five assists against Ohio State.
There have been times when Indiana’s offense waits too long in the shot clock to find an opening and resorts to Grace Berger taking a contested midrange shot (to her credit, she has made most of them). However, when the starters play a complete game like they did yesterday, the Hoosiers are hard to stop.
“The adversity that we hit was a blessing for us,” said Patberg after the game. “It didn’t look like it at the moment but it was and I think we’re starting to click again. We’re starting to roll again.”
Iowa’s ceiling at the NCAA Tournament hinges on its defense
Everyone in the media section was blown away by Caitlin Clark’s 41-point performance last night. One fan behind me said it best: it was just Caitlin being Caitlin.
As peculiar as it is to say we all have come to expect scoring outbursts like this from Clark, Iowa’s defense is what stood out to me over these last two days. Outside of the first half against a Veronica Burton-led Northwestern team, the Hawkeyes have done a great job limiting the opposing team’s best player. They are going to make teams beat them with their complimentary pieces around the go-to option on offense and it has worked so far. Gabby Marshall and Kate Martin have each stepped up on the defensive end and raise Iowa’s ceiling when they shut down offensive players one on one.
It is a good time for Iowa to come together on both ends of the floor. While they had the best offensive rating in the regular season, they allowed opponents to shoot 31.7% from beyond the arc, which ranks in the 36th percentile according to Her Hoops Stats. So far in the tournament, they’ve held teams to 20.7% from three-point range. If they keep this up, Iowa could go on its deepest postseason run in its programs history.
“We’re playing our best basketball right now especially on the offensive end,” said Clark after the game, “but I think our defense has been pretty good as well.”