INDIANAPOLIS — The Indiana women’s basketball team traveled back in time, Friday afternoon, all of the way back to December, when Mackenzie Holmes was the queen of the low post and the Hoosiers were feared across the country.
The good old days may be here again for IU, the way the Hoosiers choked off potent Maryland, 62-51, with gung-ho, fierce defense and with a somewhat restored Holmes showing little effects of a debilitating knee injury.
This was a notable take-down, sending Indiana into the semi-finals of the Big Ten tournament at Gainbridge against Ohio State (23-5) Saturday at 3:30 p.m.
“I thought they followed the game plan to a T,” IU coach Teri Moren said of the way the Hoosiers stifled 11th-ranked Maryland (21-8), out-rebounded the Terrapins, and neutralized their talent.
This achievement followed a victory over Rutgers Thursday and raised the Hoosiers’ record to 21-7, the seventh year in a row a Moren-coach IU team has won at least 20 games.
And the win came a week after the Hoosiers fell to Maryland in College Park, 67-64, to end the regular season after they defeated the Terrapins in January.
After Holmes suffered a knee injury and was sidelined for a month, the Hoosiers, who reached the Elite Eight of the NCAA tournament last year, and were ranked as high as fifth nationally, experienced a late-season swoon and were tied for 14th this past week.
IU also had a two-week quarantine due to the COVID-19 virus. But the teams seems to be thriving again at the start of post-season play.
“The thing that is so special about this team is their resilience,” Moren said, calling it a “life lesson. Their ability to bounce back.”
Maryland, which Moren called “the bar” for the Big Ten for its years-long success, designed a strategy based around hustle and effort and it shut down the Terrapins from the start.
The Terrapins shot just 31.4 percent from the floor and went 0-for-12 from 3-point territory while committing 14 turnovers accompanied by just nine assists. Diamond Miller, one of Maryland’s key players, was invisible, held to 4 points.
“O-for-12?” Moren said half-jokingly. “We were spectacular. I think we did a great job.”
Guard Ashley Omusu was Maryland’s leading scorer with 21 points and Angel Reese added 14 points and 13 rebounds, but IU hounded Maryland in the offensive zone.
“They were the tougher team,” Maryland coach Brenda Frese said, calling the oh-fer from long range “painful. They punched first. They played really hard for 40 minutes.”
Maryland missed a slew of layups, too, that helped IU lead 18-13 after one period and 34-25 at the half.
“We shot really bad,” said Maryland’s Chloe Bibby, who herself was just 2-for-11. “We missed a lot of bunnies.”
Not only did IU punch first, it punched continuously. leading the whole game except for about a minute early and controlling the fourth quarter. The Terrapins trimmed the lead to five points, but made eight out of 10 free throws in a close-out stretch.
Grace Berger contributed 16 points, 11 rebounds and 4 assists. Getting the best of 50-50 balls, balls up for grabs, early, set a tone for IU.
“I think it was huge,” Berger said.
Nicole Cardano-Hillary, IU’s 5-foot-6 point guard, inhaled 8 rebounds, in addition to scoring 9 points and making 4 steals. She played huge. And for the second day in a row, members of the opposition described her as being an annoying “gnat” on defense.
Holmes, both IU’s leading scorer and rebounder prior to her injury, clearly played her sixth and best game since mid-January, maneuvering more effortlessly left and right in the low post for her 17 points.
“We knew if we got the ball moving there would be holes in their defense,” Holmes said of teammates feeding her.
Holmes underwent some kind of surgery on her left knee, but not even Friday would confess what the exact nature of her injury was. She has worked diligently to return in a hurry, but would not characterize how close to 100 percent she is, either.
“It’s been a struggle (to return)” she said.
The same could be said for IU as a team, but both the player and the squad should be ready for the Buckeyes in the semi-finals.
“One step closer to a Big Ten championship,” Holmes said.