IU women’s basketball overcame a slow start Thursday before cruising to a 79-56 win over Illinois, and that turnaround was defined by sophomore forward Mackenzie Holmes.
The Hoosiers fed Holmes in the paint to open the game, but the Illini applied enough pressure in the paint to force a missed shot. The next possession, Holmes was left alone on the perimeter where she failed to convert an uncontested 3-pointer.
While Illinois kept a focus on containing IU’s starting center and even threw some double-teams her way, Holmes had to get creative before she was able to figure out the opposing defense.
“She was anticipating a lot of double-teams coming her way today,” head coach Teri Moren said of Holmes. “One of the things you have to caution your bigs when that happens is that they have to one expect it, two relax and be able to make the right play out of it.”
Holmes didn’t take another shot from behind the arc but wasn’t afraid to play out of the high post either. When her shots weren’t falling early on, Holmes was effective enough in the paint and setting screens to create space and scoring chances for her teammates.
In the second quarter, however, Holmes poured in 10 points and got the fast break offense going as the Hoosiers burst out to a commanding 42-20 halftime lead.
“It’s so nice to have a big that is committed to running the floor the way she is,” Moren said of Holmes. “We were trying to get her to slow down.”
The Illini were late to get back on defense off of their missed shots, and Holmes made them pay for it. Because IU pushed the ball up the court so quickly in transition, Holmes often flew by the Illinois forwards undetected before cashing in on open looks at the rim.
Holmes said she wasn’t expecting to get the ball and score every time she was the first one back on offense, but her hustle kept the Illinois defense honest and set up other scoring opportunities in transition as well.
“Regardless if I get the ball or not, usually we can get a wide-open shot because I’m already down there so that defender has to occupy that space and the guard can get an open layup,” Holmes said.
With those double-teams hampering her ability out of the post, Holmes also helped facilitate the pick-and-roll and was able to get to the free-throw line on her shot attempts near the basket.
Holmes sat the entire fourth quarter and still managed to lead the team in scoring with 18 points. She also made a difference defensively with three blocks and one steal, imposing her size and length on the Illini as the Hoosiers ran away with their third consecutive win.
“We can’t get ourselves in a hole early,” Holmes said. “Getting out to a faster start and kind of extending that lead early is really important for us, especially going down the stretch when we’re gonna be playing tough teams night in and night out.”