IU reaps Big Ten honors ahead of conference tourney

After the Indiana University women’s basketball team thrashed Michigan by 16 points in February, Wolverines coach Kim Barnes Arico expressed admiration for the Hoosiers.

IU was ranked No. 2 in the country. Michigan was ranked No. 12. But the way the Hoosiers handled what the other highly ranked team threw at them impressed the vanquished.

“Indiana’s a great basketball team,” Barnes Arico said. “They have maturity, and they have urgency. They are hard to guard. I think they can win a national championship. They’ve got a chance to be special.”

The Hoosiers have spoken generally about winning titles this 2022-23 season and have captured their first Big Ten regular-season crown in 40 years. Now comes the Big Ten Tournament, starting today in Minneapolis.

Now 26-2 record and 16-2 in league play, the Hoosiers are seeded No. 1 and have a bye into the quarterfinals, Friday at 12:30 p.m. against either Nebraska or Michigan State.

Despite losing their last regular-season game in an 86-85 epic to Iowa, a game seemingly decided twice in the last two seconds, the Hoosiers are the target. They have won one championship belt, are looking to win another and then chase the biggest prize of all in NCAA play.

The amount of respect the Hoosiers have around the league was illustrated Tuesday when regular-season honors were announced. Coach Teri Moren was voted Coach of the Year, senior Mackenzie Holmes was chosen as Defensive Player of the Year and first-team all-league, joined on the first team by guard Grace Berger, a four-time selection.

Guard Chloe Moore-McNeil was selected to the second team by the media and was honorable mention from coaches. Yarden Garzon, Sydney Parrish and Sara Scalia were honorable mention. Moore-McNeil was also all-defensive and won the team’s Sportsmanship Award.

Indiana has beaten nine ranked teams, the only loss to a ranked squad being the one to Iowa this past Sunday. That was a grudge-match game, spellbinding for spectators. IU seemed to have the contest won on two free throws with 1.5 seconds left, but Iowa star guard Caitlin Clark fired up a three-pointer at the buzzer for the win.

It was a come-down-to-earth moment for the Hoosiers, who had 14 wins in a row.

“I am really, really proud of our group. Once again, they showed how tough they are, how they are one of the very best teams in the country in terms of just the way they fight and how they handle themselves, and they never panic,” Moren said.

Perhaps the result was a maybe-there-is-hope moment for the rest of the league, the toughest in the country this season, with five teams ranked in the top 17 this week.

That would be Michigan in 17th, but besides IU, hanging onto No. 2, Iowa, No. 7, and Ohio State, No. 14, Maryland skyrocketed to No. 5. None believe Indiana is unbeatable in the Big Ten postseason scramble but think IU at its best is a formidable foe.

Purdue coach Katie Gearlds sees a versatile IU squad as a potential Final Four club.

“There’s a good chance we see this team in Dallas,” Gearlds said.

The Hoosiers enter the Big Ten Tournament shooting 50.2% as a team — second-best in the nation. Holmes can be thanked for her contribution. She averages 22.5 points and 7.4 rebounds a game and makes about 70% of her shots. Holmes has been almost unstoppable in the low post, spinning to her left or right.

Berger, averaging 12.4 points and about six assists a game, is the floor leader and owns probably the most lethal mid-range jumper in women’s basketball. Parrish, a former Indiana Miss Basketball who transferred home from the University of Oregon, also averages 12.4 points.

Garzon, from Israel, averages 11.3 points and 5.2 rebounds. A dangerous long-range shooter, Garzon, at 6-3, is tall for a guard. Moore-McNeil, who defers to Berger sometimes and leads the team other times, averages 9.5 points, can hit the three-pointer or drive. Her average is lower, but she has more overall assists than Berger. Scalia, a transfer from Minnesota, averages 9.2 points.

Holmes draws raves for being one of the finest low-post players in the country.

“There are a lot of good posts in the country, but there’s no one better than the one living in the Bloomington area right now,” Gearlds said.

Berger, who has international experience for the USA, is looked to for guidance.

“Grace is a leader who really sets the tone for us,” Moren said.

IU has already won more games in a season than any other Hoosier team. In her ninth season, Moren is the program’s winningest coach. Recently, the Hoosiers reached the Elite Eight of the NCAAs and the Sweet Sixteen. But Indiana wants more this March.

“We’ve got to win a lot of games to win championships,” Moren said. “They’re (players) laser-focused on their goals.”

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