Cardano-Hillary, No. 11 IU women rally at Ohio State
Via Stefan Krajisnik of the Indianapolis Star
When Nicole Cardano-Hillary transferred to Indiana, these are the types of performances Teri Moren had in mind.
A former Atlantic-10 player of the year and the leading scorer in George Mason program history, Cardano-Hillary came to IU to provide another scoring guard off the bench.
But with Jaelynn Penn’s decision to opt-out, Cardano-Hillary now finds herself as a starter in her first season at Indiana.
In Saturday’s 87-75 win at No. 15 Ohio State, she proved she was up to the task.
Cardano-Hillary scored 16 points and shot 3-of-8 from deep, including a big 3 from the corner to jumpstart Indiana’s final push of momentum to close out the game.
It’s no surprise that she’s found her way in the scoring column, but the 5-foot-6-inch guard is providing much more. She added 11 rebounds and constantly caused issues for Ohio State’s guards — something that Moren praised following the team’s win at Wisconsin earlier this week.
In the first quarter, Cardano-Hillary met Ohio State’s Jacy Sheldon at midcourt and immediately attacked the ball. Sheldon fumbled with it but still recovered, but Cardano-Hillary’s pursuit wasn’t finished.
She chased down Sheldon again, got a piece of the ball and then dove to the floor to grab the steal. While still on the ground, Cardano-Hillary looked up and saw Grace Waggoner open, making a pass that had Indiana scoring an easy layup on the other end.
“She’s having success, and because of it, our team is having success in the pressure she’s providing on the ball right now,” Moren said. “She’s just been so good at playing other team’s point guards and making them uncomfortable.”
The performance came on Cardano-Hillary’s 22nd birthday, and it’s one that her teammates and coaches knew would come once she settled and got more comfortable in her new role at a new school.
“(Cardano-Hillary) plays really hard,” senior guard Ali Patberg said. “She’s super competitive… That just shows you her heart, her toughness and her will to win.”
IU (15-4, 14-2) was the better team for much of the first half thanks in large part to its defensive effort. Indiana held Ohio State to just 12 points in the first quarter, but OSU found ways to stay in it.
Just before halftime, the Buckeyes hit a 3 to cut the deficit to six. But an untimely turnover by IU in the final seconds gave Ohio State one last heave from half court which went in.
In a matter of seconds, Ohio State had made it a one-possession game going into the break and that momentum carried.
Indiana lacked momentum for much of the second half — including a four-minute scoring drought to end the third quarter. Ohio State had a lead as large as nine in the fourth, and with Indiana struggling to hit from outside, the OSU zone caused issues like it had in the first matchup between the two.
But instead of relying on hitting shots from outside, Indiana turned back to what it does best.
The Hoosiers focused on creating stops and allowing the transition offense to open up the scoring. When IU couldn’t push, it still found ways to get the ball inside to its bigs.
“I loved our composure,” Moren said. “We didn’t blink. We knew that the run was coming, and I’m just really proud of our entire group.”
Interior scoring allowed Indiana back into the game, and once the momentum and the score were back in Indiana’s favor, that’s when Cardano-Hillary hit the corner 3 to provide the final punch.
“Couldn’t have had a more timely 3 to give us a little bit more breathing room,” Moren said.
This was Indiana’s seventh consecutive win with the last loss being at home to Ohio State a month ago. The win also snapped a 15-game losing streak against the Buckeyes and marks the second road win against a ranked opponent this year.
Moren acknowledged the droughts Indiana has ended this season — including a road win at Iowa for the first time since 1994. The 14th conference win is tied for the second-most in program history behind the 15 of the 1983 Big Ten champions.
“You have to have a different mindset, different persona, different toughness when you go on the road,” Moren said. “That’s what our kids have continued to play with.”
Maryland, with one loss, continues to stay ahead of Indiana in the Big Ten race. IU’s final two games this season are at home against Iowa and Purdue, while Maryland has Northwestern and Penn State remaining.