Indiana women’s basketball hasn’t played a game since Jan. 16, when it beat Purdue 73-68 in West Lafayette, Indiana. After the longest midseason break head coach Teri Moren has ever encountered in her 30 years of coaching, Indiana will finally return to the floor Monday night.
“It was this tidal wave that came in and took a lot of us out,” Moren said about the spread of COVID-19 within the Indiana program.
No. 6 Indiana will face off against No. 7 Michigan at 7 p.m. Monday at Crisler Center in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Both teams are looking to continue their respective winning streaks, and Indiana looks to stay perfect in conference play.
The Hoosiers are on a nine-game winning streak and have not lost an away game in the 2021-22 season. They have also won 15 consecutive Big Ten games and 12-straight road games, dating back to January 2020.
The Wolverines, led by senior forward Naz Hillman averaging 20.2 points and 8.9 rebounds per game, also look to continue their own six-game winning streak and remain undefeated at home.
Indiana has not played in 15 days, and for much of that time, the team was unable to practice as a whole. Moren said Indiana had to continuously wait for symptoms to subside and tests to come back negative, forcing the team to practice however it could with whoever was healthy.
“Nothing as far as getting up and down the floor, not a lot of that,” Moren said about the types of workouts the team did. “A lot of half-court work just to keep their stamina and their endurance.”
Indiana’s games against Michigan State and Iowa were postponed due to COVID-19 cases in the Indiana program, and right when Indiana was ready to play again, its game against Illinois on Jan. 27 was postponed due to cases within the Illinois program.
The Hoosiers already cleared COVID-19 protocols prior to the postponement against Illinois, though, and were able to be together to practice and prepare for Michigan.
“We’ve been back together for some time now,” Moren said. “At least a good week of togetherness, which has been nice. It’s finally great to see everybody.”
While all of their players may be cleared of COVID-19, the Hoosiers still won’t have a full roster when facing the Wolverines. Junior forward Mackenzie Holmes has not played since Jan. 5 since sustaining a knee injury, and she underwent a successful knee procedure Jan. 20, according to an email from IU Sports Information Director Megan Kramper.
Holmes’ return date remains unknown.
“Mack had a very successful knee procedure,” Moren said Sunday. “Right now she’s doing phenomenal in her rehab.”
Without Holmes, Moren turned to sophomore forward Kiandra Browne to fill her starting spot. Browne doesn’t have the scoring abilities of Holmes and is only averaging 3.6 points per game, but she has contributed on the defensive side by drawing fouls and forcing tough shots from opponents.
Indiana’s defense continues to be one of its key characteristics, leading the Big Ten by allowing only 57.8 points per game. However, Michigan is right behind, allowing 58.5 points per game while scoring an average of 73.6 points per game. Indiana scores an average of 72.8.
The Hoosiers were on a momentous winning streak before their COVID-19 pause, setting a new program best by starting 6-0 in Big Ten play, largely thanks to their defense. Moren said all the team can do to try to regain that momentum is to find its rhythm quickly.
“Hopefully with our experience, that will happen for us,” Moren said. “I do think that there’s a disadvantage to be where we’re at right now in terms of not playing in many days.”
However, Moren said the past week has provided a chance to get good practices in and be competitive with each other in preparation for Michigan.
“Hopefully the adrenaline will be what helps us and sustains us,” Moren said. “This is a group that is really grateful for the opportunity just to play, and when we don’t have the opportunity it really throws us off because of how much we love the competition.”