Virginia Commonwealth University may have gameplanned around Mackenzie Holmes in its first round NCAA Tournament game Monday in San Antonio, but that wasn’t enough to contain the IU women’s basketball sophomore forward.
The No. 13 seed Rams relied on a zone defense that limited the No. 4 seed Hoosiers offensively, making it hard to feed Holmes near the basket and forcing them to settle for long jump shots. IU shot 10-of-30 from the floor in the first half, including 2-of-12 from behind the arc, as it clung to a 22-17 lead.
Holmes, one of only three Hoosiers to have scored by halftime, was held to 4 points early on but didn’t need the ball in her hands to affect the game. By the end of IU’s 63-32 win in her NCAA Tournament debut, Holmes had 14 points, seven rebounds and five blocks.
“I thought we started to figure out some things in the second half,” head coach Teri Moren said. “I thought our ball movement was much better. Defensively we were locked in, I have no complaints with that side of the ball.”
Despite her quiet first half performance, Moren said Holmes’ play near the basket was critical to IU’s success. The Hoosiers conceded the fewest points by a Big Ten team in NCAA Tournament history, and Holmes had a lot to do with their record-setting defensive effort.
Holmes swatted five VCU shots aside, including a third quarter block from behind of senior guard Taya Robinson’s floater that led to a forced shot clock violation. The All-Big Ten first team selection also finished with two steals and was persistent on the glass, forcing the Rams to box out for 50/50 rebounds.
Where Holmes didn’t have as many chances, however, was in the paint on offense. Junior guard Grace Berger led all scorers with 20 points but said it wasn’t a characteristic first half for IU offensively because of Holmes’ inactivity.
“We need to be a little smarter if our shot’s not falling, we have great post players that we can get inside and get us an easy basket,” Berger said. “Not settling for 3s when they’re not going down is definitely a big emphasis moving forward.”
After recording just two shot attempts in the first half, IU fed Holmes on its first possession of the third quarter before she drew a foul to head to the free-throw line. She sank both free throw attempts and started to get settled down low on offense.
Holmes ended 5-of-6 from the field and went 4-of-5 from the free-throw line. She took advantage of mismatches around the basket and even evaded double teams as the Hoosiers extended their lead down the stretch with continued defensive pressure.
“We weren’t close to hitting the panic button that we weren’t gonna be able to produce shots or have some production on the offensive end,” Moren said. “We spent a lot of time at halftime just talking about that, trying to open things up a little bit more, trying to get the ball inside to Mack.”
The win advances IU to the second round of the tournament Wednesday when the team will face No. 12 seed Belmont University, which just upset No. 5 seed Gonzaga University 64-59.
“I believe so much in this group that I do believe we got some momentum and it’s gonna carry over into the next round,” Moren said. “Our best basketball is gonna be ahead of us.”