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Indiana wins battle of top-15 teams, beating Kentucky behind Mackenzie Holmes’ career night

What a memorable 150th win it was for Teri Moren, as the No. 8 Indiana women’s basketball team defeated the No. 13 Kentucky Wildcats 88-67 on Sunday. From Mackenzie Holmes’ career-high 29 points to setting a program record in points against a top-15 team, there was a lot to celebrate Sunday night in front of Hoosier fans for the first time in two years. Head coach Teri Moren said she was appreciative of the crowd that came out to support the Hoosiers.

“[I] really appreciate our fans, Hoosier nation, showing up in a big way,” Moren said. “We needed their energy throughout, our guys play off their energy. So that was great to see.”

The Hoosiers gameplan from the get go was plain and simple — feed Holmes. She had the first 11 points of the game for IU, and it seemed like Kentucky could not find a way to stop her at all. Holmes also had a 3-pointer during her run, showing the progression in her game from her time as a Hoosier. Kiandra Browne, Aleksa Gulbe and Ali Patberg were the only other Hoosiers who scored during the first quarter. Holmes thanked her teammates for her scoring efforts Sunday.

“I think what’s so special about our team is I don’t have to score 20 points a night to win,” Holmes said. “We have so many great players that can go for 20 and 30, so I think that’s what’s so special about us.”

Indiana’s defense looked very sharp in the first 10 minutes. Holding a very good team like Kentucky to only 14 points in a quarter is a huge positive that will give this team some confidence early in the season. Patberg out on the perimeter and Holmes being a great rim protector inside gives Indiana some great versatility on defense. 

The Wildcats made a little run after the Hoosiers’ solid first quarter. Kentucky did a great job of adjusting and finding ways to get inside and to the line as well. After being down eight points at one point in the second, Kentucky quickly tied the game in just the matter of minutes thanks to some great scoring from Jada Walker. With Grace Berger’s halfcourt buzzer-beater to ignite the crowd at Assembly Hall, the Hoosiers went into the locker room with lots of confidence. 

And they showed that confidence the entirety of the second half, outsourcing the Wildcats by 15 the last 20 minutes of the game. Indiana started off the third quarter trying to speed things up more, and that turned out to be a good plan. Nicole Cardaño-Hillary and Patberg made some great long passes to find Holmes and Gulbe under the basket for some easy looks. 

Cardaño-Hillary also continued to shoot well from beyond the arc, hitting a couple big 3s to extend the Hoosier lead to double digits. The whole Hoosier team also did a great job of getting inside, drawing fouls, and getting some easy points from the free-throw line. Free throws have been an important part of the game Moren has been preaching about ever since the exhibition against UIndy, and the Hoosiers have done an excellent job with that thus far.

A huge sign of hope for the Hoosiers was Sunday’s bounce-back game from Patberg. After a rough shooting performance against Butler, Patberg seems to be back on track, going an efficient 6-for-10 from the field and picking up 16 points. If Patberg plays like she did Sunday night with what Holmes and Berger have shown to do so far this season, this offense is going to be very dangerous and fun to watch this season. Moren talks about her Big Three and how important it is for them to show up in big games.

“I expect that from them,” Moren said. “Because I know they’ve put in the work, and I know they’re talented. But whether it’s play calling on the sidelines or letting them play, they will figure it out.”

Indiana also did a great job moving the ball around against the Wildcats, especially in the fourth quarter. The Hoosiers recorded 18 assists on the night, making 42 assists in the two regular-season games played this season. That is a major reason why Indiana was able to pull away from Kentucky in the late fourth quarter, with great passes in transition to wear down the Wildcats en route to a huge 88-67 victory. The Hoosiers have looked great in both second halves this season, but for the team, being solid all 40 minutes will be key down the stretch.

“As far as us being a second-half team, that’s certainly never our goal,” Berger said. “We want to come out and stay hot for all four quarters. But when you’re playing a good team like Kentucky that’s not always going to happen. As much as we pride ourselves on having really good endurance, I think that’s why we find a way to pull away.”

Indiana improves to 2-0 on the season, with a signature win already under its belt which could be huge later in the season. The Hoosiers continue their non-conference slate with a game against Norfolk State on Tuesday. The Spartans are 2-1 and are coming off a tough 38-point loss against Ohio State in Columbus. Moren said that regardless of rankings, the team has to stay focused coming off a win like this.

“[Rankings] are something we don’t pay any attention to,” Moren said. “We’ve been ranked before, and it’s nice to have national attention. It helps in a lot of things. But what I love about our group is the humility this group has always had. And I think that starts with your leader in Ali Patberg. They just want to work, they love the game, they’re passionate about the game.”

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