BLOOMINGTON — Indiana women’s basketball earned a top-10 preseason ranking, and the Hoosiers looked the part during Wednesday’s exhibition game.
IU handled its business against Division II opponent Northwood in a 111-68 win at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall. The Hoosiers built up a huge lead by halftime, at 65-26. They gave their reserves more playing time in the second half, and the Timberwolves kept things close in those quarters.
So IU head coach Teri Moren knows her team has work to do heading into the start of the regular season. But Indiana’s top players can come away from the exhibition feeling good about their performances.
Here are a few things that stood out Wednesday.
Sara Scalia displayed confidence
Moren spoke highly of Scalia on Monday during a media availability on Zoom, saying the guard is in the best shape of her life entering the season. And Scalia backed that up with a strong game Wednesday.
Numbers only mean so much in an exhibition game like this, but Scalia’s looked good. She shot 6 for 10 from the field, including 5 for 8 from 3-point range, for 17 points, with three rebounds and two assists. She drained her first four 3-pointers before her first misfire.
But the encouraging showing from the fifth-year senior goes beyond the box score. She just displayed so much confidence in her shot and her game on Wednesday. Scalia played with a decisiveness Indiana needs from her this season. There’s the obvious caveat that Northwood was extremely overmatched against Indiana’s starters, and Scalia will have to back this up in games that count and against tougher opponents. But it was a positive game for the guard nonetheless, and could get her into a rhythm heading into the regular season.
Scalia spent a lot of time in the offseason working on hitting game-like shots, and Moren said she’s been shooting really well in practice.
“Sara Scalia looks the best that she’s ever looked in her career in terms of fitness level, her mind, her confidence, all of it,” Moren said. “It’s great that she can come in and she can shoot it with the confidence. And we’re going to need her to continue to do that. We know this about her: she is lethal. She can cause problems for the defense. I just want her to do what all great shooters do: when in doubt, shoot it. Always be in doubt. And if she misses one, she needs to come back and have a short memory and knock the next one down.”
That last point will be another test for Scalia in how much she’s grown. Last year, when she went cold or couldn’t get shots to fall, she’d sometimes disappear from games. And it was hard for Moren to rely on her in those moments.
On Wednesday, Scalia cooled off at the end of the first half, missing her last three shots before halftime. She came back out and drilled a three early in the third quarter, then missed another, before subbing out for good. On nights when Scalia plays a normal amount of minutes and she inevitably goes cold, it will be telling if she remains engaged and still contributes, and if she can continue firing away and get herself back on track.
Mackenzie Holmes dominated the Timberwolves, who simply lacked the size and talent necessary to counter an All-American.
She looked like her best self from last season, before her knee flared up at the end of the season and limited her on the court. Holmes looked like the player capable of taking over games and scoring on just about anyone.
The graduate student shot a perfect 14 for 14 from the field for 28 points, along with seven rebounds, three blocks, and three steals. And she did that in just 14 minutes of game time.
That last figure is key. Holmes played the fewest minutes of any IU starter — in fact, only Sharnecce Currie-Jelks and Arielle Wisne played fewer minutes than Holmes, on a night when IU’s entire roster played. With the knee issues she’s had at the end of the last two seasons, Moren has emphasized protecting Holmes in practices to keep her healthier for the end of this year.
That’s top of mind in games like this. But Moren said she has a fine line to toe with that situation, in looking out for Holmes in other ways.
“We’ve got to protect Mack from Mack. She feels really good. And we’ve really managed her, I think, well in practice,” Moren said. “But we’ve still got to provide her with minutes — enough — that she always feels like she has a rhythm when she gets on to the next game. And it puts me in a conundrum sometimes also, because there’s things out there that she can accomplish here, and I have to make sure that I am doing right by her to make sure I put her in those positions to accomplish some of those goals — not that she has, but that this program has for Mackenzie.”
Moren, of course, is referring to Holmes’ chances at becoming Indiana’s all-time leading scorer and climbing up several other program leaderboards. If Holmes stays healthy this season and avoids drastic regression, she’ll pass Tyra Buss for the scoring mark.
But Moren knows having Holmes at full strength in March is what’s most important. It helps that her backup, Lilly Meister, has grown a lot over the last year and is ready to play a bigger role this season. The sophomore posted a double-double Wednesday, with a team-high 14 rebounds and 10 points.
Holmes, Moren, and the Hoosiers are confident in Meister. She’ll be crucial for IU’s ability to spell Holmes this year, particularly in non-conference games.
“I think Lilly’s an extremely hard worker, so it’s bound to show in games,” Holmes said. “And I think tonight, it did. She was great on the glass. But she’s just shown a tremendous amount of progress, and her confidence is going to continue to grow.”