In No. 18 IU women’s basketball’s 66-45 win over Purdue on Thursday, sophomore Mackenzie Holmes and junior Aleksa Gulbe were the difference makers for the Hoosiers.
Purdue boasts a deep rotation of dynamic forwards that matches up nicely with IU’s starting front court, and the Boilermakers tested the Hoosiers in the paint and on the glass early. Seniors Tamara Farquhar and Fatou Diagne are tough assignments on their own, and 6-foot-6 freshman center Ra Shaya Kyle is an effective option off the bench.
However, Holmes and Gulbe rose to the occasion on both ends of the floor in the 21-point win. They not only combined for 30 points on 12-of-18 shooting but also stepped up defensively and held the Purdue forwards in check.
“I could tell from the beginning we were dialed in,” IU head coach Teri Moren said.
Despite scoring 12 of IU’s first 19 points, Holmes was getting pressured — and at times double-teamed — in the paint with her back to the basket in the first half. The Boilermakers made a point of wanting to slow Holmes down, and they bothered a few of her early shots out of the post.
It wasn’t long before Holmes adapted to Purdue’s size, though, and she ultimately got into a rhythm offensively. In addition to finishing contested looks around the rim with both her left and right hands, Holmes even stepped out of the paint and knocked down a jumper in the fourth quarter.
“She’s faced some really big kids — I think she just needed to settle in,” Moren said of Holmes. “She’s really good around the bucket as we know. Very crafty, she’s able to score the ball in different ways.”
Holmes finished with 20 points and Gulbe had ten, but their collective presence was somehow stronger on the defensive end.
The Boilermakers went more than 11 minutes without a point in the second and third quarters — a decisive scoring drought that was in part a product of sturdy interior defense from Holmes and Gulbe.
“We’re not surprised by how either one of (Holmes) or (Gulbe) did tonight defensively,” Moren said. “Defensively we really stifled them, especially in the second quarter, to build our lead. We tried to push them out of the box, out of their comfort area as much as we could and just tried to wall up and make them take tough shots.”
Moren said she values Gulbe as a consistent defender, rebounder and third or fourth scoring option, but she also expects more out of her.
“I just think there’s more in the tank, and I think she can give us more,” Moren said of Gulbe. “She’s capable of averaging a double-double if she wants to. I’m gonna keep pushing her to want to be better and have those types of stats night in and night out.”
If Gulbe sees an uptick in production and plays to Holmes’ level offensively, the Hoosiers could have a dangerous one-two punch out of their front court down the stretch this season.
IU was next scheduled to play Monday in Bloomington, but that game has been postponed due to COVID-19 concerns within the Rutgers women’s basketball program. IU is still set to play at 6 p.m. Thursday against Michigan State in East Lansing, Michigan.