Shortly before No. 5 Indiana women’s basketball tipped off against Northwestern on Thursday, junior forward Mackenzie Holmes sprinted from the court back to the team’s locker room, closely following on the heels of graduate student guard Ali Patberg.
For the pair of Indiana starters, this is a game day tradition — one that has been on pause since Holmes suffered an injury to her left knee prior to the Jan. 13 game against Nebraska. The return of the tradition signaled a far more important return for Indiana: Holmes’ inclusion in the starting lineup.
Even though Holmes didn’t lead the Hoosiers in scoring, her contributions helped Indiana defeat Northwestern 69-58 at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall.
During team introductions, the Hoosier faithful in the stands gave Holmes the loudest ovation of all the players in Indiana’s starting lineup.
Prior to her injury, Holmes averaged 17.9 points, 8.2 rebounds and 1.9 blocks, all of which led Indiana through 14 games. Despite missing over a month of play, Holmes was named to the Wooden Award Late Season Top 20 Watch List — college basketball’s most prestigious honor.
On Thursday, Holmes finished with 6 points and six rebounds, half of which came on the offensive glass. Although Holmes did not put up the stats she normally does when healthy, her teammates expressed faith that Holmes will return to form in the near future.
“She’s getting back in there,” graduate student guard Nicole Cardaño-Hillary said postgame. “I mean you can’t blame her for being a tad rusty (on Thursday), but next game she’s got it.”
Holmes played the first three-and-a-half minutes against the Wildcats before being subbed out. In that first stint, she looked uncomfortable and only took one shot, an open 3-pointer, and missed badly.
When Holmes came back into the game for her second stint, she looked more at ease on the floor and made her presence felt, scoring her first points at the free throw line after getting fouled on a put-back attempt following an offensive rebound. Holmes finished the game 4-4 from the line.
“She looked like she hadn’t played in a month,” head coach Teri Moren said. “That’ll all come back. She’s just too good of a player.”
In eight games without Holmes, Indiana went 6-2, losing to then-No. 6 Michigan on Jan. 31 and Nebraska on Monday. Moren said she didn’t want to rush Holmes back to action and wanted to make sure Holmes only returned when she was ready.
“We’ve just really allowed Mack, her physician and Ben (Tate), our athletic trainer, to make the decision,” Moren said. “She’s worked extremely hard, in terms of her rehab, doing everything every single day, not overdoing it.”
Going into the game, a substantial amount of tape and padding could be seen wrapped around Holmes’ left knee. Any time she checked out of the game, Holmes went straight to the exercise bike to stay warm and keep her knee loose.
In the fourth quarter and the win safely in hand for the Hoosiers, Holmes played two more minutes and spent the end of the game on the bench with a brace on her knee.
“It’s going to be fun to have her back,” Moren said.
Indiana’s next game is at 4 p.m. Saturday at Assembly Hall. Indiana and Holmes will matchup with No. 22 Iowa and sophomore guard Caitlin Clark, who leads the country with 27.6 points per game.