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Can the Wildcats protect their home court?
The storylines in the second-round game between the Arizona Wildcats and the Indiana Hoosiers run deep. The two teams have a lot in common. Two schools better known for their men’s programs, which are coached by brothers Archie and Sean Miller. Two teams that used postseason WNIT championships as stepping stones to national recognition.
“Arizona is a great team,” Indiana coach Teri Moren told High Post Hoops. “They have a lot of really good players, and are led by one of the best scorers in the country. We will be prepared. We have played against the top teams in the country, and we have played in some of the toughest arenas in the country. We just need to focus on us and do what we have been doing. We need to come out and play our game.”
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How did they get here?
After their best season in decades, the Wildcats (24-7, 12-6 Pac-12) earned not just a berth in the tournament but the right to host. For a team that has the second-highest attendance in the Pac-12 with just under 6,000 fans per game, that’s a big advantage.
The Hoosiers (24-8, 13-5 Big Ten) had a huge season of their own, knocking off overall No. 1 seed South Carolina and making their first Big Ten Tournament semifinal appearance since 2006. If you go by Her Hoops Stats’ ratings, the Wildcats received no favors with this match-up.
Arizona used their home crowd and another big night on both ends of the court by star guard Aari McDonald to get past Marist in the opening round. McDonald had 24 points and five steals against the strong team out of the MAAC in their 77-64 victory.
“Aari McDonald is obviously a fantastic player,” Moren said. “We will play our defensive principles. She is a difficult matchup, and she is tough to completely shut down 1 on 1. Our goal is to make her have to work for everything she gets and make things difficult for her. But, they have a team full of good players, and we need to not let any of their other players go off.”
Indiana fed off the 3-point shooting of Ali Patberg to take down Kent State. She went 6-of-9 from distance on her way to 28 points.
“Ali has really picked up her play as the season has progressed.” Moren said. “We stressed to her how important it is for her to play aggressively. When she plays aggressively, our whole teams plays with a higher level of confidence. Her attitude and energy set the tone for our team. She has helped lead us to a high level of performance here as of late.”
How do they match up?
According to Her Hoop Stats, the Hoosiers have had a stronger season. Indiana comes in as the No. 17 offensive team and the No. 9 defensive team according to that service. Arizona ranks No. 34 on offense and No. 12 on defense. The most important story those numbers tell is that this will be a defensive battle.
The teams had two common opponents, UCLA and Washington State. The Hoosiers lost to UCLA on their home court, while Arizona split their games with the Bruins. Both beat the Cougars, Arizona twice and Indiana once.
How does Indiana win?
The Hoosiers are the more well-rounded team on offense with four players averaging double figures this season and a fifth averaging 9.0 points per game. Patberg leads the team with 15.6 ppg. Not too far behind is Grace Berger with 13.1 ppg. Rounding out the quartet are Mackenzie Holmes (10.8) and Jaelynn Penn (10.6).
While Arizona is a very strong team on the defensive end of the floor, that can present problems for them, as demonstrated in their three losses to Oregon.
As mentioned in the opening round preview of their game against Marist, Arizona can sometimes lose the 3-point shooters or get overly aggressive in its defense of the 3-point line. Patberg could cause them problems out there if she lives up to her first-round performance. She is shooting 38.6 percent from distance this season.
Fortunately for Arizona, she’s really the only big threat from outside with no one else on the team shooting better than 32.7 percent from distance on the season and only four hitting at least 30 percent of their 3-point shots.
How does Arizona protect its home court?
As always, the Wildcats will depend on McDonald and Cate Reese for double-digit scoring. They need their third and fourth options to step up if they want to move to their first Sweet Sixteen since 1998. That generally means Sam Thomas and Dominique McBryde.
Arizona shoots the 3 at a far higher rate than most of Indiana’s opponents. While the Wildcats need to keep track of Patberg, they can cause more problems for the Hoosiers from distance from more positions on the floor than the other way around.
Every member of their regular rotation except McDonald and fellow guard Amari Carter shoot at least 33 percent from outside. Of their starters, three of the five shoot at least 35 percent from 3 and sixth woman Helena Pueyo shoots 38.3 percent.
On the defensive end, Arizona is stronger both stealing the ball and blocking shots. Four Wildcats have at least 15 blocked shots on the season compared to three Hoosiers.
When it comes to picking the opponents’ pockets, Arizona has six players with at least 30 steals on the season led by McDonald with 68. Even back-up post Semaj Smith has 10 on the year, giving the Wildcats seven players with double-digit steals. Indiana has three with at least 30 led by Berger with 43. The Hoosiers have six in double figures on the year.
The Wildcats struggle on the boards, and coach Adia Barnes has said that she does not emphasize offensive rebounding. In their favor, they have held opponents to a lower rebounding rate than the Hoosiers average this season. They will need to focus on boxing out on the defensive end–which is important to their coach–to keep that stat stable. Giving up second-chance points could be a killer.
“This win would be the next step for our progression as a program,” Moren said. “We were able to make it to the second round last year. Getting to the Sweet Sixteen is the next step, and we are knocking on that door.”
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