No. 6 Hoosiers rolling ahead of two-game trip in Las Vegas

BLOOMINGTON — There has been more artistry to it than the word makes it sound, but the Indiana women’s basketball team has basically been bulldozing every opponent on its schedule.

The Hoosiers are 5-0, woke up on Monday as the sixth-ranked team in the nation and have been stomping on foes as if they are invasive ants at a picnic. Except for Tennessee and that is a whole different level of statement.

IU has beaten down Vermont, 86-49, UMass Lowell, 93-37, Bowling Green, 96-61, and Quinnipiac, 92-55. All of those were home games in November at Assembly Hall. In the middle, the Hoosiers traveled to Knoxville, Tennessee and controlled the Volunteers, 79-67. The ranked Lady Volunteers. On the road. The Lady Vols are as much women’s basketball royalty as Charles is King of England.

This is the Tennessee built by the late legendary coach Pat Summit. The Tennessee, winner of eight national championships. Slumping lately, but maybe because of IU.

Current Hoosiers may not grasp what a check-mark achievement that Tennessee win represented, but IU coach Teri Moren admitted the victory meant something extra to her.

“Certainly, there’s so much tradition,” said Moren, who said she had never been to Knoxville for a game, neither as a player nor a coach. “It’s special to me. It is one of those measuring sticks you have.”

Right now, as IU departs for a two-game weekend trip to Las Vegas to face Auburn and Memphis, teams may be starting to measure where they are in the women’s hoops world by how they fare versus Indiana.

The Hoosiers hesitate to admit they currently are doing more than evaluating a refreshed lineup coming off Elite Eight and Sweet Sixteen seasons in the NCAA tournament. But others reading the scores or seeing evidence on television jumped IU from 12th to sixth in the ratings in one week.

The cornerstone rocks have been guard Grace Berger and forward Mackenzie Holmes, some returners have improved, but the richness of the depth Moren has stems from the savvy manner in which transfers have been deployed.

Holmes is averaging 17.4 points and 7 rebounds and is healed from a last-season knee injury. Berger is both an energetic and intelligent floor leader with a deadly mid-range jumper, averaging 12 points, 6 rebounds and 5.8 assists a game. She is the sarge in charge and her versatility is so ingrained in observers, it is sometimes taken for granted, as in “That’s Grace being Grace.”

Vastly improved Chloe Moore-McNeil is averaging nearly 10 points a game and improved Kaitlin Peterson has showed well when she gets chances.

Guard Sara Scalia, 13 ppg., came from the University of Minnesota, Sydney Parrish, 9 ppg., came home to Indiana from Oregon, 6-foot-4 Alyssa Geary, transferred from Providence. Yarden Garzon, a 6-3 guard from Israel, is a budding star, averaging 10.4 ppg.

Everyone, even deeper down on the bench, has been getting PT in the blowouts. Whether it is balanced scoring, running the floor, playing tight defense, shooting the 3-pointer, or feeding the ball to the low post, the first five games have been one long highlight film.

Holmes, the 6-3 senior from Gorham, Maine, an integral component for the last two post-season runs, is cautious about putting this IU team on a pedestal just yet. Are the 2022-23 Hoosiers better than the two recent high-achieving teams?

“I think we’re just different,” Holmes said. “We have different pieces. This year we have new pieces, new faces.”

A lot of them. But they are meshing, and yes, bringing new skills to the lineup. The stat sheet from games are often revealing. But a way Moren likes to interpret meaning before viewing game film is the column announcing how many assists her players accumulated.

Assists often reveal unselfishness. A smooth machine of a team shows its nature with assist totals, making one more pass for an easier shot instead of settling for a tougher one.

Against Quinnipiac Sunday, Indiana totaled 24 assists on 35 baskets. In defeating Bowling Green, Indiana compiled 25 assists on 40 baskets. Rarely has a team so often made the basic give-and-go play culminating in a layup look so pretty. Moren understated those statistics as “sharing the ball at a high clip.”

Among a wider collection of players, too. This could all be heralding a season of magic for the Hoosiers.

Lew Freedman writes sports columns for The Tribune. Send comments to [email protected]