Midway through the third quarter, sophomore Mackenzie Holmes was fed a usual post touch. She turned her shoulder and laid it on the rim, but the ball bounced out.
Holmes used her vision and corralled the rebound, then put it up a second time. No good – this time, it was an uglier-looking shot. Staying with it, she battled for another rebound and forced another one up, missing the third attempt by even more.
“[Holmes] just had one of those days where nothing easy went in and then she was overthinking and then she was pressing,” head coach Teri Moren said.
Protected by a 15-point lead, the triple-misfire did not feel particularly destructive in the moment, but the Fighting Illini fought all the way back inside one possession in the fourth quarter.
IU women’s basketball was able to close the game by converting its final three free throws to finalize the 58-50 victory, but it should have never been this tight against a team with a 1-12 conference record.
That possession was a fraction of the Hoosiers’ offensive struggles inside with the team only hitting 8-of-21 layups against Illinois Sunday afternoon.
Holmes, whose 18 points per game leads the team, ended up with 7 points on an alarming 1-16 shooting day. Once she missed her first several shots, it seemed being in her own head affected other parts of the game.
“There were moments where she missed coverages thinking about her offense,” Moren said.
Her rough performance is surprising because she has been so efficient, scoring in double figures in all but two games this year. She even set a program record by hitting all 13 of her field goal attempts in the season’s opening game.
Despite the off game, there is no reason to believe this is the start of a spiral for the sophomore. It’s difficult to be as productive as she’s been in every contest, so a dud like this is not a big deal. If anything, it is a blessing that it came against a team who has struggled like Illinois has.
“Nobody feels worse about her performance than (Holmes) does, but she is happy that her team got the win,” Moren said.
On a night where two of IU’s best players — Holmes and junior guard Grace Berger — had forgettable games, the reserves picked up the slack. Once again, freshman forward Kiandra Brown was a massive energy boost, while sophomore guard Grace Waggoner registered a sweet rejection and played what was probably her best game this season.
Sunday’s game proves that even if the Hoosiers do not play to their potential, they have enough grit and improved depth to gut out a victory.
“It definitely wasn’t our night in all areas,” senior guard Ali Patberg said. “But like coach said, it’s not going to be pretty all the time, and we found a way to win.”
IU has four games remaining in the next two weeks, including matchups against No. 12 Michigan on Thursday and a road test against Ohio State, which is also ranked No. 12.
No matter how poorly they played in Champaign, Illinois, the result is what counts. The Hoosiers could not have afforded a loss to Illinois in their tight race for the Big Ten regular season title. It would have been their third conference loss while No. 9 Maryland and No. 12 Michigan still only have one.
“Two weeks from now, nobody will hear how we played here,” Moren said. “It will just show up as a win.”