The pregame warmup is a standard ritual in basketball, and nothing seemed out of the ordinary when Indiana women’s basketball’s players took the court hours before tipoff of their game against Michigan State on Saturday.
Dressed in the home white shorts and carrying her jersey, junior forward Mackenzie Holmes strode onto the court from the locker room. Indiana has been without Holmes since its game against Nebraska on Jan. 13. She has been rehabilitating an undisclosed knee injury.
The crowd took notice as she neared center court, standing and cheering for Indiana’s leading scorer.
Holmes stood courtside as her teammates continued warming up, using a massage gun on her legs while speaking with trainers. But not for long, as she rejoined those teammates to participate in the usual pregame warmups, including jogging across the court.
When it came time to head back into the locker room before tipoff, Holmes sprinted across the court.
Everything looked good, but then she didn’t play.
Holmes hasn’t returned yet, but don’t think for a second she hasn’t had an impact on this team. You can see her in senior forward Aleksa Gulbe as she emerges as a scoring threat, or sophomore forward Kiandra Browne locking down the paint in her stead.
When any player made a play, particularly her fellow forwards, Holmes leapt from the bench with high-fives and words of encouragement.
It’s not like Browne didn’t impact the game before Holmes’ injury though, as she provided strong defense off the bench during the first half of Indiana’s season. out of necessity, she entered the starting lineup of one of the top teams in a league known for physical play.
Holmes could not be with Browne on the court, but she was there in spirit. Both teammates and head coach Teri Moren herself notice the time Holmes takes to help out her fellow forwards during her absence.
It’s a task she’s been given, and one she appears more than happy to do.
“One of the things we challenged Mack with is there’s still a role for you to play until you can get back on the floor,” Moren said in a postgame press conference. “And that’s to instill good juice, enthusiasm and energy to the post players, particularly KB.”
One quick glance at the box score will show you that Browne scored no points. But that’s just scratching the surface, Plato’s cave levels of analysis. Look deeper.
Michigan State scored 27 points in the first half, and 14 in the third quarter. Only 6 of those 41 points were scored in the paint, the stomping grounds Browne inherited from Holmes. She also hauled in 6 rebounds and drew key fouls throughout the game.
“You look at her stats, she doesn’t have a basket,” Moren said. “However, she has two big time charges for us, rebounds the ball for us.”
And if you still want to ask about those zero points, let me remind you that this is a game Indiana won by 18 points. She wasn’t being asked to score like Holmes, and it wasn’t necessary.
No one can replace a player like Holmes, and Indiana will need her down the stretch as it chases a Big Ten title and a deep run in the NCAA tournament. But Holmes using this time to help her teammates is still serving the team well and will pay dividends when the time comes to chase those lofty goals.