Indiana women’s basketball No. 6 overcomes slow start to defeat Illinois No. 21

After a tough first quarter in which she fell 9 points early in front of a large opposing crowd, the No. 6 Indiana women’s basketball team returned to defeat No. 21 Illinois 83-72 in Urbana-Champaign on Wednesday .

In the first duel between these teams on December 4, the Hoosiers narrowly escaped with a win on their home court and the Illini took the same fight from the opening tip into the second contest.

[Related: Indiana women’s basketball overcomes rebounding struggles to beat Illinois in Big Ten opener]

Midway through the first quarter, the game was still tight until the Illini opened up a 7-0 run over a span of less than 90 seconds that put the Hoosiers in a 9-point hole and forced them to time out to take. In the time-out, graduating forward Grace Berger said the team hadn’t made any major changes to their defense, they just went back to executing the game plan.

“We were definitely frustrated at the beginning that we gave up some easy looks,” said Berger after the game. “As a veteran team, we huddled together and realized that if we were going to win this game, we had to find a way to make it a little harder for them.”

However, Indiana responded, outplaying Illinois by 15 points in the closing minutes of the first quarter and the entirety of the second quarter. During that stretch, Indiana was able to lock in defensively while controlling the boards and getting to the foul line efficiently — nine of Indiana’s 19 points in the second quarter came from the charity streak.

After taking their first lead of the game, Indiana was determined to keep it and never fall behind again, but Illinois still made plenty of threats to gain that advantage. The biggest challenge to Indiana’s lead came midway through the fourth quarter when a 9-0 run in Illinois cut the lead to 7 points.

The ninth point of that run came at the free-throw line, where Illinois shot two after Indiana’s elder forward Mackenzie Holmes committed her fourth personal foul while defending a shot. Despite the risk of a foul, head coach Teri Moren kept her star post player and Holmes stayed confident, scoring a run stop and -1 on Indiana’s subsequent possession.

After Holmes’ highlight regained momentum for the Hoosiers, they never gave up and were able to go the rest of the way and claim the Big Ten victory on the road 83-72.

In addition to Holmes’ game-best 30 points and 10 rebounds – her eighth double-double of the season – Berger, freshman guard Yarden Garzon and junior guard Chloe Moore-McNeil all had double-digit points. Moore-McNeil also led the team with six assists, including three in the first quarter, to set the tone early.

For Illinois, it was youngster Kendall Bostic who took the lead with 17 points and 11 rebounds and was Holmes’ main defender on most possessions. After the game, Moren said that matchup helped decide the game.

“Two great posts really have a fight tonight,” Moren said. “I think Mack obviously showed that she has great footwork and great hands and she can score with both hands. She’s just a little bit different, she’s a throwback player who can score in a lot of different ways.”

The win marked Moren’s 189th since she took over as program manager prior to the 2014-15 season, making her the most successful coach in Indiana women’s basketball history. In Sunday’s win against Wisconsin, Moren – in her ninth season with the team – tied Jim Izard with 188 wins, a mark it took Izard 12 years to reach. Despite the performance, however, Moren said the performance speaks more to the players she’s coached than anything she’s done.

“It always depends on the players,” Moren said on Sunday. “I’ve yet to do an assist or a layup or a free throw or get a big block, a steal – it always depends on the players who play inside the lines for us and there have been a lot of them. A lot of really great players who have come through our program in nine years and they are all certainly the ones who really did all the work.”

Indiana is now 17-1 overall – tied for the best start in program history – and 7-1 in the Big Ten. For its next game, Indiana travels to Ann Arbor to continue its brief road trip with a matchup against No. 14 Michigan on Monday at 8 p.m.

Follow reporter Will Foley (@foles24) and Matt Sebree (@mattsebree) and columnist Matt Press (@MattPress23) for updates during the Indiana women’s basketball season.