The seats in Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall were filled with cream and crimson Saturday afternoon as No. 3-seed Indiana women’s basketball took on No. 14-seed University of North Carolina at Charlotte.
The crowd of 6,389 — the 10th largest crowd in program history — clapped, roared and celebrated as the Hoosiers doused the 49ers in an 85-51 victory. With the win, Indiana advances to the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
“This was a really good first test for us,” head coach Teri Moren said. “We did a lot of good things.”
Indiana dominated in all areas of the game, and held the lead for almost 37 minutes. The team finished shooting 55% from field goal range with 46 points in the paint and only had six turnovers.
Charlotte only scored 22 points in the paint, shot 37% from field goal range and was forced into 14 turnovers. Indiana scored 22 points off turnovers alone.
“Our guards were terrific defensively,” Moren said. “We knew going into this game that we were going to be challenged off the bounce (and) our transition defense was on point. There were a lot of really good things.”
As a team, Indiana had eight steals and out-rebounded Charlotte 37-32. The Hoosiers employed a variety of ball-screen tactics, keeping the 49ers on edge and holding off easy shots. Almost every Indiana guard switched onto Charlotte’s fifth-year guard Octavia Jett-Wilson, who led her team with 19 points.
Indiana’s defense proved successful overall, holding the rest of Charlotte’s players to under 10 points each.
Four Hoosiers scored in double figures, led by junior forward Mackenzie Holmes with 19 and senior guard Grace Berger with 18. Holmes also led all players in rebounds with eight.
“We shared the ball and we locked in on defense,” Holmes said. “Right now is a really good time to be playing that kind of basketball.”
Holmes returned to play Feb. 17 after sustaining a knee injury in the beginning of January. Her stamina, energy and production has steadily improved since her return. Holmes has scored in double figures in Indiana’s last seven games.
“Mack is starting to find her groove,” Moren said. “We’re just trying to work with her endurance and helping her feel more comfortable.”
Senior guard Aleksa Gulbe was also among the Hoosiers’ top scorers with 15 points, marking the most points she has scored since Feb. 19 against Iowa. Gulbe also put up seven rebounds, three steals and two assists in the 32 minutes she played against Charlotte.
Indiana “shared the sugar” and combined for 23 assists, a statistic Moren said she was especially happy with. Moren said Indiana entered the game with the goal of balanced scoring, and it ultimately came in the form of layups, post-ups and even ball distribution.
“When we have 20 or 20-plus assists and we’re sharing the ball like that, we have the ability to put a lot of points on the board,” Moren said. “(But) what’s going to carry us throughout this tournament will be our defense — our ability to defend and rebound.”
Indiana used its bench players consistently throughout the game, specifically sophomore guard Chloe Moore-McNeil, who scored 7 of Indiana’s 15 bench points. As Indiana’s lead grew to over 30 points, all five starters went to the bench for the final minutes of the game.
“It’s such a nice opportunity when you can do that,” Moren said about the ability to bring players off the bench. “From a coaching perspective, that’s what you want.”
Eleven Hoosiers saw playing time Saturday afternoon, and 10 of them put points on the board. Freshman forward Mona Zaric was among them, scoring the first points of her career in the two minutes she was on the court.
With the win, Indiana moves on to the Second Round of the NCAA Tournament to play the No. 11-seed Princeton University on Monday. Princeton upset No. 6-seed University of Kentucky on Saturday following Indiana’s win.