The No. 14 Indiana women’s basketball team is off to the best start in program history and started Big Ten play with a 79-67 win over Michigan State on Saturday. The Hoosiers have been ranked as high as No. 12 in the AP top-25 rankings and have losses to No. 6 Baylor and No. 10 UCLA.
As Indiana enters the gauntlet of Big Ten play and enters 2020, it’s time to give out year-end awards to the team’s top performers.
Freshman of the year: Mackenzie Holmes
Holmes came to Bloomington with a multitude of accolades: a five-star prospect, the No. 53 recruit in the country according to ESPN and the 2019 Maine Gatorade Player of the Year. While Holmes has started just one game for the Hoosiers, it’s safe to say she has lived up to expectations.
In her first 53 minutes played for Indiana, Holmes scored 53 points. This efficiency shown from the beginning of the season has made Holmes an elite weapon off the bench. She is currently fourth in the team in scoring with 11.4 points per game and is tied for the team lead in rebounds with senior Brenna Wise at 5.8 per game.
Holmes has done a great job of learning to run the floor in transition to get easy baskets, which has helped her efficient scoring clip, shooting 69 percent from the field. The freshman still has room to develop defensively, but she does lead the team with 18 blocks. Holmes has made the necessary defensive adjustments that have forced Head Coach Teri Moren to play her nearly as many minutes as starting forward Aleksa Gulbe.
Most Valuable Player: Ali Patberg
Patberg was named to nearly every preseason award list she was eligible for heading into the season and has been the steady floor general Indiana needs her to be. While her points per game of 12.2 is down about three points from last season, Patberg has adjusted well to the influx of scoring present on the Indiana roster.
Patberg is skilled enough average more points if she focused on getting her own shots each possession, but part of what makes her the team’s most valuable player is her unselfish nature. The junior point guard is averaging 5.2 assists per game and should receive a lot of credit for Indiana having five players averaging double digit points per game.
Patberg’s leadership and toughness are two attributes that won’t show up in the box score, but are crucial to the team’s success. She has been a reliable scoring option all year long and has done a great job of getting everyone on the team involved, offensively. Patberg’s willingness to defer to backup point guard Chanel Wilson when the two are on the court together has enabled Wilson to use her 3-point shooting ability to benefit the Hoosiers.
Most Improved: Grace Berger
Moren was spot-on with her prediction before the year. At the team’s first media availability of the season, Moren raved about how much Berger improved during the offseason and she was right. Berger went from a backup guard off the bench last season to the team’s leading scorer at 12.9 points per game.
Berger has always had a great midrange jump shot, but she made herself an even more dangerous scorer this season by improving her 3-point shot. Berger is 9-for-20 from beyond the arc this year after shooting just 5-for-23 from 3-point land last season. Moren has described Berger as a bit of a quiet person in the past, but her communication has led to her becoming more assertive offensively this season.
Berger has also developed greatly defensively, with 16 steals on the season. She has become a willing rebounder, as well, averaging 3.2 per game, making her a true stat-sheet stuffer for Indiana.
Unsung hero: Jaelynn Penn
It has been easy to look past the importance of Jaelynn Penn at times this year. It might be because of the emergence of Berger or the many responsibilities given to Patberg, but Penn’s value should not be overlooked. Penn has dealt with plantar fascia in both of her feet throughout the season, but you wouldn’t know it by the spark she brings to the team.
Penn is averaging 10 points per game and does a great job of spacing the floor for the Hoosiers, always ready to knock down a corner or wing 3-pointer. She also has a great ability to beat opponents off the dribble, freeing herself up for drives to the basket or cross-court skip passes to open shooters.
An experienced junior, Penn is a capable defender and understands understands Moren’s desire to lock in on the defensive end each game. Moving forward, look for Penn to increase her points per game as she continues to get healthy and Indiana’s rotation tightens up.
Best win: South Carolina
When Indiana was steamrolling its nonconference opponents, fans were itching to see how they would stack up against some of the country’s top competition. The Hoosiers traveled to the Virgin Islands for a test that would determine whether or not they were a national threat. That’s when Indiana’s signature 71-57 win over no. 4 South Carolina happened.
Indiana’s two most vocal leaders, Patberg and Wise, each scored 16 points in this game. The Hoosiers’ depth was on full display against the Gamecocks as Berger and Gulbe each contributed 10 points and Holmes stepped up in a big way with eight points, six rebounds and a blocked shot.
While Indiana was unable to follow up this win with a victory over No. 6 Baylor (which was ranked No. 2 at the time), it certainly gave the team confidence going forward and put the rest of the Big Ten on notice. This win win will surely be a résumé booster come Selection Monday.
Player most likely to take the next step in 2020: Jorie Allen
Everyone knew her name when she arrived in Bloomington this fall. The 2019 Indiana Miss Basketball award winner came in with big expectations, but to this point of the season, she is still adjusting to college basketball. Allen is an intriguing player in that she possesses a wide variety of skills and doesn’t have a defined position.
Allen has a natural feel for the rim when she has the ball in the post, but she has also shown the ability to consistently knock down midrange jumpers and even step behind the arc at times. Allen is averaging just 2.8 points and 3.1 rebounds in 13.7 minutes per game and it could take some time for her to find her definitive role because of the depth of this Indiana team.
Because of Allen’s ability to score in a variety of ways, Moren can use her in different lineups and rotations. Allen is an obvious candidate for improvement in Big Ten play as she becomes more comfortable with the pace of college basketball.