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Will UConn use its depth to counter Indiana’s experience?

Grace Berger storms into the paint. Indiana Athletics photo.
Grace Berger storms into the paint. Indiana Athletics photo.

UConn and Indiana meet in the Sweet 16 in Bridgeport, Connecticut on Saturday in a contest that should pit defense against experience. The Hoosiers have a seventh-year starter in Ali Patberg, while the Huskies have two sophomores and a freshman.

UConn, in theory, has greater depth (coach Geno Auriemma eschewed that advantage against UCF in the round of 32 earlier this week), with the ability to play nine deep. Three of Indiana’s starters have logged over 1,000 minutes this season.

But don’t expect fatigue to be a factor. There will be nothing new about Grace Berger (36.4 minutes, 16.3 points), Nicole Cardano-Hillary (33.9, 11.7), Patberg (34.1, 11.5) Aleksa Gulbe (34.3, 11.9), and Mackenzie Holmes (28.4, 15.4) logging extended minutes.

The most salient statistics for the Hoosiers have to do with their experience, which allows them to play calmly, and at their desired pace when things get difficult. Their starters have played in 621 games in their careers, scoring 7,863 points. All five score in double figures this season.

On the other side of things, the Huskies have institutional experience as they enter their 28th consecutive round of 16. And they are more or less at home in Bridgeport. Their much younger starters have played 376 games to score a credible 4,530 points, but that is still 3,333 fewer than their opponents.

UConn boasts the second-best scoring defense in the nation, holding opponents to under 35 percent shooting and just over 51 points per game, while shooting over 48 percent and scoring 74.3 points. Only one team has exceeded 50 points in the last 10 games against them.

Indiana is only a decent defensive team, allowing opponents to shoot 40 percent on the season.

On offense, the Huskies average 74 points per game and shoot at a .483 clip, which is second in the country. Four players average in double figures (Christyn Williams, Paige Bueckers, Azzi Fudd and Caroline Ducharme), but four others (Seniors Olivia Nelson-Ododa, Evina Westbrook, and Dorka Juhasz, and sophomore Aaliyah Edwards) score between 7.7 and 9.5 points a game.

UConn has made 228 threes in their 32 games, just over seven per game, and shoots .345 from outside. Indiana averages .330 as a team from outside the arc (hitting 157, or five per game).

The Hoosiers’ strength lies inside the arc. All five starters have excellent pull-up jumpers, and all five move well without the ball, screen efficiently, and remain patient in their offense to get someone open. They assist on 54 percent of their field goals. Holmes, the second-leading scorer, shoots 60 percent from the field.

The player that runs the show and sets the tone for Indiana is  Berger, whose crafty speed to the hoop has flummoxed nearly everyone. Husky fans can only hope that Nika Muhl will be allowed to guard her. No one can stop Berger, but Muhl might well slow her down enough to disrupt the Indiana offense.

UConn has a dynamic inside game, but teams often pack the paint, challenging opponents to shoot threes. Against UCF, the post players were largely ineffective against the aggressive posts of the Knights.

Although the Huskies shot the three well recently, their Achilles heal has been missed layups. In their tight game against UCF, UConn missed 10 of 12 layups. But even with those missed layups, they assist on 64 percent of their field goals. It will be a key for them to run their offense at their pace, to take advantage of that passing ability.

It is time, however, for the 11-time champs to look like the offensive team they were during the Big East tournament. If they can light up the offense, the defense should hold Indiana to a low enough score to move on.

Another day of crummy layups could send them back up the highway to Storrs.

Indiana and Connecticut have never played each other. Transfer Dorka Juhasz played four games against Indiana for her Ohio State teams, winning all four.

Tipoff is at 2 pm ET.

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