Indiana women’s basketball’s first real test of the season carries more significance than just the game itself.
The ninth-ranked Hoosiers are traveling to California this weekend to play at No. 15 Stanford on Sunday at 5 p.m. on ESPN. It’s a big early-season challenge for both teams, with each having just one official game under their belts before it.
This is the first leg of a home-and-home series that will see the Hoosiers and Cardinal play in Bloomington during the 2024-25 season. For Stanford head coach Tara VanDerveer, these games pit her against her alma mater for just the third and fourth times with the Cardinal.
VanDerveer played at IU from 1972 through 1975, and learned a lot from Bob Knight’s coaching class as a student. She was inducted into the IU Athletics Hall of Fame in 1995, and the university awarded her a Bicentennial Medal in 2021.
The longtime Cardinal coach has seen Indiana’s program rise from afar over the last several years, and it’s filled her with pride.
“I’m a definite, proud alum. Indiana has always had this love affair with basketball and now it’s with women’s basketball, too, and that’s very exciting,” VanDerveer told The Daily Hoosier in an email. “The numbers of fans they have, the great teams they have. It’s absolutely fantastic and really fun to be riding this wave of support and enthusiasm for women’s basketball.”
VanDerveer’s Hoosier teams went a combined 48-13, with an AIAW tournament Final Four appearance in 1973. In addition to Knight’s class, she sat in on his men’s basketball practices throughout her three years in Bloomington. Those experiences helped mold her into the all-time winningest coach in women’s college basketball history.
Both teams will enter Sunday’s game 1-0 — Stanford beat Hawaii on Wednesday, 87-40, and Indiana defeated Eastern Illinois on Thursday, 96-43.
VanDerveer has beaten IU in both prior meeting with Stanford. The teams most recently faced off in the Bahamas in November 2021, when the reigning champion Cardinal pulled out a 69-66 win. Stanford went on to its second consecutive Final Four that season, while IU followed its first-ever Elite Eight with its second straight Sweet 16.
The other meeting came in 2001, at Stanford, in an 87-72 Cardinal win.
VanDerveer also faced IU — more frequently — when she served as Ohio State’s head coach from 1980 through 1985. IU went 2-8 against those Buckeye teams.
But the meetings are less often, now, and next year’s game will be her first time back at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall since leaving Ohio State. So this series allows VanDerveer to reminisce on her time in Bloomington.
“(Playing this game) does bring back a lot of memories of being there, when you’re thinking about facing them and seeing the candy cane warmups. I mean, it’s Indiana,” VanDerveer said. “I have great memories of being there and it’s just a fantastic job that [IU head coach] Teri Moren has done. They have 17,000 fans coming to games. It’s very exciting, the enthusiasm that is there for women’s basketball.”
On the court, the headline matchup is in the post, between Wooden Award finalists Mackenzie Holmes and Cameron Brink. Holmes averaged 22.3 points per game last year and won Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year. Brink posted 15.1 points per game and was named WCBA Defensive Player of the Year.
Brink may be the toughest individual matchup Holmes sees all season.
The forwards faced off in the 2021 game, during Holmes’ junior year and Brink’s sophomore year. Holmes struggled offensively that day, shooting 3 for 12 for six points, though she did grab 10 rebounds. She’s scored in single digits in only two games since then — her first games back from an eight-game absence in February 2022.
Meanwhile, Brink dominated in the Bahamas, with 21 points and 22 rebounds.
But both teams are different, two years later, and VanDerveer said her team has a big defensive challenge ahead between Holmes and Indiana’s strong outside shooters.
Moren is less focused on the battle in the paint than she is her team shooting the ball well, defending well, and maintaining its identity.
“You don’t change who we are. We’ve got to really try to get out in transition, we’ve got to take advantage of being able to shoot the ball outside the arc and hope that you’re having a good shooting night,” Moren said after IU’s win over Eastern Illinois. “We still, obviously, have a tremendous amount of confidence in Mackenzie because she is still going to continue to draw a lot of coverage. But I think for us, it’s not going to really be about Cameron Brink and the Mackenzie Holmes matchup, it’s going to be about the matchups of the other four there on the floor. I think we did this a year ago when we went into Tennessee — you’ve got to make sure you go in with a tremendous amount of confidence, and that’s how we played down there. I think our kids are looking at it as a great challenge, and I think their experience will help us once we get over there.”
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