Indiana defense helps make up for lack of experience

Nina Mandell

Indiana may have one of the youngest starting lineups in the Big Ten, but Northwestern needs to show the composure of five seniors to beat one of the conference’s toughest defensive team.

The Cats start a three-game roadtrip today in Bloomington, Ind., against a team still looking for its first conference win. But since all of the Hoosiers’ losses this season have been against teams at the top of the Big Ten, it will not necessarily be an easy game for NU (4-13, 1-3). NU also is hovering around the bottom of the Big Ten standings.

The Hoosiers (7-6, 0-3) came within four points of first-place Minnesota before losing by 23 to Purdue in their most recent game.

To avenge last year’s 58-55 overtime loss, the Cats have to stop junior guard Cyndi Valentin, who averages more than 16 points a game for the Hoosiers — the only Indiana player to average more than six points. As a sophomore, Valentin burned the Cats for 24 points, including all seven of the Hoosiers’ points in overtime.

NU coach Beth Combs said she will start with Ifeoma Okonkwo guarding Valentin.

“We have to stop her from scoring,” Combs said. “She’s very versatile about the way she gets her points.”

NU senior guard Melissa Miller said the team knows that Valentin will score. But added that NU is looking to deny the ball from Indiana’s star and get more aggressive in the passing lanes.

“We have to be better defensively,” Miller said.

But with the tightness of Indiana’s defense the Cats will need all the help they can get scoring. While Indiana’s offense only scores an average of 53.2 points a game, the least in the Big Ten, its defense only allows 51.8 points per game, making it the second-best defense in the conference.

“Indiana plays a tough half court man,” Combs said. “We just have to execute our plays.”