Indiana women’s basketball entered its Thursday night matchup against Nebraska missing a key piece on both offense and defense. Junior forward Mackenzie Holmes, who averages 18 points and 8 rebounds per game, did not appear in the game due to a knee injury.
Despite the setback, a not-so-new contributor stepped up to lead Indiana to a 72-65 victory. Senior forward Aleksa Gulbe led Indiana with a season-high four steals and was the team’s second-highest scorer with 17 points. Gulbe has started every game this season and entered the matchup with Nebraska averaging 10 points and 1.14 steals per game.
While Holmes has led the Hoosiers throughout the season in almost all categories, notably rebounds and blocks, Gulbe has been a close second with 6.4 rebounds and .76 blocks per game. Gulbe put up five rebounds and two of Indiana’s three total blocks for another season-high against Nebraska.
“She does that every game,” Nicole Cardaño-Hillary said of Gulbe in the postgame press conference. “She’s always hustling. She’s that player that’s always going to give us energy and do kind of dirty work.”
Head coach Teri Moren echoed Cardaño-Hillary’s sentiments, pointing to Gulbe’s contributions in defensive rotations and ball screens.
“I can’t say enough about her defensively,” Moren said. “She’s so good in those moments.”
Gulbe was the tallest Hoosier on the court at 6’3, which helped her match up with some of the tallest Huskers. Her ability to defend shots on the perimeter as well as in the post proved instrumental in the Hoosiers’ win.
With four minutes remaining, Gulbe fouled out, and her absence was notable. Nebraska drove into the lane more easily and had second-chance opportunities that wouldn’t have been as likely with Gulbe under the basket.
“It was a blow when she fouled out because it was a silly foul,” Moren said. “She made the mistake of trying to get around, and she got burned by it.”
Offensively, Gulbe provided momentum for the Hoosiers from the first quarter, scoring her first 3-pointer to give the Hoosiers their first lead of the night. She went on to score two more shots from deep in the game, ultimately shooting 50% from beyond the arc.
“When she can step out there and see that shot going down, it does something for her. It does something for the team,” Moren said. “For her to step out and shoot the ball the way she did tonight beyond the arc was very critical.”
Gulbe attempted the most shots on the team, with six 3-point attempts and 14 shots from field-goal range for new season highs. Gulbe’s season-high 17 points came second only to Grace Berger, who led all scorers with 22.
The performance against Nebraska marked the third straight game and seventh overall this season in which Gulbe has scored in double digits.
Indiana faces Purdue at 2 p.m. Sunday in West Lafayette, Indiana. With Holmes’ status for the matchup unconfirmed, Gulbe may have another chance to show her abilities and help Indiana remain undefeated in Big Ten play.