Indiana women’s basketball faced real questions after its one-sided loss to Stanford.
It was the type of game the Hoosiers hadn’t played in years. One that was, for all intents and purposes, over before halftime. Was it the confluence of a really bad day for them and a really good day for the Cardinal, or was it a red flag for this group moving forward?
IU put those concerns to bed on Thanksgiving night in Fort Myers, Fla. The 21st-ranked Hoosiers defeated No. 19 Tennessee for the second straight year, a 71-57 win in the Elevance Health For Myers Tip-Off.
Indiana knew its performance in California nearly two weeks ago was an aberration, and the team took advantage of its first opportunity to prove that.
“I think we knew we were capable. None of us were happy leaving Stanford a couple weeks back, and we knew that we had to be so much better,” said All-American forward Mackenzie Holmes. “We knew we would be so much better, because we’re a really hard-working group with a great coaching staff behind us.”
This game, for Indiana, embodied so much of what Teri Moren’s program is about. It’s the work ethic Holmes mentioned, yes, but also strong defense and resiliency.
IU set the tone in the first half through its defense. Tennessee shot just 9 for 35 from the field in the half, as IU forced a lot of difficult looks. IU’s offense didn’t really get going until the second quarter, but the Hoosiers had already established how this game was going to play out by then.
The Lady Vols were missing their leading scorer, Rickea Jackson, which certainly impacted their offensive performance. And Moren contended that Indiana needs to be even better defensively. But to keep a team like Tennessee — who’s tied for 24th in the nation at 85 points per game and is 77th with a 44.57 field goal percentage — to 57 points, 36 percent from the field, and 0.877 points per possession is an unquestionably good sign.
“It’s better,” Moren said of her team’s defensive effort. “That’s something that we’ve hung our hat on, but quite frankly, if you’ve heard me talk early about our team, it’s an area that we have to get so much better at being able to guard. I thought we came in with the right game plan.”
Yarden Garzon’s career night obviously helped. Holmes looked like her typical self once she got going in the second quarter. And those are clearly positive developments for IU — the All-American returning to form against top competition after a clunker against Cameron Brink and Stanford, and Garzon reaching a new level in a big game.
But perhaps the biggest personification of Moren’s Hoosiers is the clearly intentional response they showed in their first big game since Stanford.
IU has taken big blows before, and it’ll happen again. But Moren has always preached resiliency and responding to those adverse moments the right way — whether it’s something mid-game or a crushing defeat. And so often, her Hoosiers have done that. They lost All-American Grace Berger to an injury last year, and came back with an 7-1 run in her absence. Holmes wasn’t healthy coming off knee surgery in 2022, and IU still made the Sweet 16.
The Hoosiers’ talent didn’t suddenly evaporate because of one big, early-season loss against Stanford. And they proved it against the Lady Vols.
Moren said she’s hoping she won’t have to keep referring back to the Stanford game as a comparison point for other games. Dismantling a ranked team like Tennessee, even without its top scorer, is a big step in that direction.
“After that Stanford loss, we were not just angry and frustrated and disappointed, we were a little bit embarrassed. We knew that that’s not our team. That’s not what we’re capable of,” Moren said. “Tonight, I think, had a little bit to do with the fact that we were getting ready to play another ranked opponent, and they just happened to be a great Tennessee team. And they wanted to show up and I think prove to themselves more than anything, that they were better than what we showed, our performance, at Stanford.”
Indiana has another tough game on deck against Princeton on Saturday at 11 a.m., streaming on FSWBucs.com. The Tigers were in the “also receiving votes” list of the AP Poll this week. This is a rematch of the memorable NCAA Tournament second round game in March 2022 at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall, when the Hoosiers pulled out a tense, hard-fought 56-55 win to reach the Sweet 16.
“No question, they are good. And so impressive. We got to play them a couple years ago at our place in the NCAA Tournament. Great coaches, great coaching staff, really great players,” Moren said. “We know how talented they are. Our goal coming here was — yes, to be out of the cold Bloomington, cold Indiana, to spend Thanksgiving together and be grateful — but it’s also to win two games. This is a business trip for us.”