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Know They Enemy: Spartans look to notch second top-ten win of the season over No. 7 Indiana

February 12, 2022
<p>Then-senior forward Alisia Smith (4) dodges an Indiana defender as she jumps up to score during the first quarter. The Spartans advanced to the semifinals of the Big Ten tournament after defeating the Hoosiers 69-61 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Shot on Mar. 11, 2021.</p>

Then-senior forward Alisia Smith (4) dodges an Indiana defender as she jumps up to score during the first quarter. The Spartans advanced to the semifinals of the Big Ten tournament after defeating the Hoosiers 69-61 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Shot on Mar. 11, 2021.

Know Thy Enemy is a Q&A where the perspective changes from the eyes of The State News to the eyes of the student newspaper of Michigan State's opponent. This week, The State News' women's basketball beat writer Jenna Malinowski spoke with Amanda Foster of The Indiana Daily Student ahead of Saturday's IU and MSU game.

Michigan State women's basketball is coming off their biggest win of the season against the No. 4 Michigan Wolverines as they travel to Bloomington, Indiana to take on the No.7 Indiana Hoosiers on Saturday at 3 p.m. The Spartans will have to carry their energy from the win into their matchup with a powerful Indiana team to keep their NCAA tournament hopes alive.

Ahead of Saturday's showdown, The State News' women's basketball beat writer Jenna Malinowski spoke with Amanda Foster of the Indiana Daily Student to get a preview of what the Spartans are up against.

Q: What has allowed IU to be so good this year? What are their strengths?

A: One of the recurring themes for Indiana is its defense. Indiana had held opponents to an average of 58.9 points per game, good for second least in the conference. A lot of that defensive success comes from graduate student guard Nicole Cardaño-Hillary, in ways that come through on and off the stats sheet. Her scrappy defense all over the court and almost ever-present half-court presses are used against the top opponents’ top scorers. Everyone characterizes her as an annoying, scrappy defender, and she always pesters those she guards. She’s also averaging 11.5 points and 2.2 steals per game, heavily contributing on the offensive side as well.

Overall strengths come in all of the five starters, four of whom are averaging in double-digits. The only starter not scoring in double digits is sophomore forward Kiandra Browne, who recently took the spot of junior forward Mackenzie Holmes. (Seniors) Grace Berger and Aleksa Gulbe have especially stepped up without Holmes on the floor – Gulbe has shown her ability to be just as good of a forward as anyone, not afraid to take shots and go for rebounds.

Q: What weaknesses do they have? What happened when they played Michigan?

A: One of the biggest storylines against Michigan was Indiana’s 15-day COVID-19 pause. The team couldn’t practice together efficiently for most of that time, and both players and coaches acknowledged that fatigue quickly set in during the Michigan game. The Hoosiers couldn’t find a rhythm offensively or defensively, and against a team as talented as Michigan — they quickly fell behind.

With that, Indiana’s offense struggled and only shot 33.3% from the field. Cardaño-Hillary was one of the few players to see success, with 16 points and eight steals. Additionally, Indiana’s post players struggled to contain (senior forward) Naz Hillmon in the paint and allowed her to score 21 points. The Hoosiers really looked like they were missing a solid defender in Holmes that night, as they were also outrebounded 52-20. When Indiana can’t find success in rebounds and scoring in the paint, they struggle. (Graduate student guard) Ali Patberg has also been somewhat inconsistent offensively.

Q: Who’s been stepping up this year? Who’s someone the Spartans have to look out for?

A: Indiana’s bench has stepped up big-time since the holiday break. Browne came in as a starter after Holmes’ knee injury, and she’s put up solid minutes and made impacts, especially defensively. (Sophomore guard) Chloe Moore-McNeil and (junior guard) Grace Waggoner have also proven they can thrive in high-intensity moments, both seeing time in both of Indiana’s matchups against Purdue. The thing with Indiana is anyone can step up any game, at any time. So while the starting five can consistently be expected to have some success, the biggest player to look out for really just depends on the game.

Q: What will be their game plan to stop Nia Clouden, who is the Spartan’s leader and best scorer?

A: I think either Cardaño-Hillary or Patberg will be tasked with guarding Clouden. Cardaño-Hillary consistently guards the best scorer on the other team, but Patberg is often on the top perimeter player, so it could go either way. But the real way Indiana can stop Clouden is in the paint and the post, and that will likely fall to Cardaño-Hillary or Gulbe. Gulbe is Indiana’s tallest player as of right now, and that height is key in defending under the basket. I think Indiana will try its best to keep Clouden from finding any sort of rhythm or confidence in shooting and I’m going to guess Cardaño-Hillary will have at least a little bit of influence in that gameplan.

Q: What injuries/COVID-19 problems are there currently within IU’s program that could affect the game?

A: The team has been cleared of COVID-19 for a while now, as its game scheduled for Jan. 27 was postponed due to COVID-19 among the Illinois program. The biggest concern within the program is the absence of Holmes, who hasn’t played since Jan. 5. It was announced on Jan. 13 Holmes had sustained a knee injury and wouldn’t play that night against Nebraska, and she hasn’t played a game since. Holmes underwent a successful knee procedure near the end of January and (head coach) Teri Moren has expressed her positive recovery and rehab efforts, but there is no projected date known for Holmes’ return. Indiana has had about a month to adjust without Holmes, though, so they won’t be playing in any unexpected conditions on that front.

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