Indiana women’s basketball will take the court in Bloomington one last time this season, with the most at stake to date.
The No. 1 seed Hoosiers take on No. 9 seed Miami (Fla.) on Monday at 8 p.m. at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. The winner advances to the Sweet 16 in Greenville, S.C.
Miami is looking to avenge its second-round loss to South Carolina last year and make its first Sweet 16 since 1992. IU is vying for its third consecutive Sweet 16 appearance, something that would have seemed impossible a decade ago.
Indiana took care of business against No. 16 seed Tennessee Tech on Saturday in the first round, despite first team All-American Mackenzie Holmes not playing. The forward was available in a limited capacity, if needed, as she battled knee soreness. But that need never arrived, as freshman Lilly Meister and graduate student Alyssa Geary filled in admirably and the Hoosiers pulled away by halftime.
Holmes practiced leading into that game, but was limited. She was in practice again on Sunday ahead of this second-round matchup. Holmes said after Saturday’s game that her status for Monday would depend on how she’s feeling on game day.
IU head coach Teri Moren expressed cautious optimism about Holmes on Sunday.
“She looks good. I think she feels great,” Moren said. “I think by all accounts right now, she’s more than ready to be in the lineup tomorrow night and see playing time. Whether that will be limited — probably. but we’re prepared for that.”
Moren elaborated that the injury, which was re-aggravated at the Big Ten Tournament in Minneapolis, is reoccurring for Holmes, predating her time at IU. She expects her standout forward to be able to play, but said that her minutes would depend on how she’s feeling — both in terms of her injury and her conditioning. The practice limitations have cost Holmes reps that might require her to need substitutions earlier and more often than normal.
But while Indiana cruised to victory, Miami’s win was far different.
It’s miraculous, in some ways, that the Hurricanes are still alive. They trailed No. 8 seed Oklahoma State by 17 points at halftime of Saturday’s first-round contest. But they flipped the game around in the third quarter with a 20-7 advantage, significantly cutting into the deficit.
Miami celebrated the win appropriately, but refocused to face one of the best teams in the country. Senior forward Lola Pendande pointed out that the Hurricanes has beaten other top opponents this season, like No. 1 seed Virginia Tech, and thinks they can do it again.
Sophomore guard Jasmyne Roberts agreed.
“We’ve played great teams before. We play in a great conference where every game was tough,” Roberts said. “We’ve competed against great teams, and we know what it takes to beat a great team, and they are a great team. I feel like our defense is going to be what we focus on a lot, and I think that we’re ready to do that.”
Indiana has created a lot of history this season at home.
The Hoosiers are undefeated at Assembly Hall, and fan support has skyrocketed as the team’s success and profile grew. IU won its first-ever Big Ten title on senior day against Purdue, in front of the first sellout crowd in program history. That was one of several attendance records set during the season.
The crowds IU has drawn for much of this season are similar to the turnout at this time last year, when IU defeated Princeton in the second round. As IU celebrated that victory, Holmes memorably bolted up the bleachers, high-fiving students on the way up as her teammates followed behind.
While a scenario like that might not happen again, Moren was appreciative of the relationship that she and her program have built with its fans.
“This is sort of what we have dreamt about, wanting support attention for our basketball team,” Moren said. “There’s no secret to it. Fans are gonna come out and support teams that win and have success and we’ve been able to do that and so I’m not not surprised by it. We’re really grateful. It’s a great blessing to have, that people in the stands that bring us so much energy and enthusiasm, and they’re smart. They know when we need them.”