Junior forward Mackenzie Holmes and graduate student Nicole Cardaño-Hillary are two of the biggest names on the Indiana women’s basketball team. Heading into Indiana’s Big Ten Tournament quarterfinal matchup against Maryland, however, they hadn’t been two of the team’s biggest contributors.
Holmes is still recovering from a knee procedure and is not at full capacity, according to head coach Teri Moren. Cardaño-Hillary, while putting up a big performance against Rutgers Thursday, only scored 3 points in Indiana’s regular-season finale against Maryland and had no steals for the first time since Dec. 23.
The two walked off the court Friday afternoon with a combined 26 points and 13 rebounds in Indiana’s 62-51 win over Maryland. With the win, Indiana advances to face No. 1-seed Ohio State in the Big Ten Tournament semifinals Saturday.
“I thought our kids defensively showed up in a big kind of way,” Moren said. “Our goal going into the game was to be as disruptive as we could.”
After Cardaño-Hillary’s lackluster performance against Maryland on Feb. 25, Moren said Cardaño-Hillary had to be better. She responded with 9 points and five steals in Thursday’s second-round win over Rutgers.
“She wasn’t as good as we needed her to be against Maryland,” Moren said after Indiana’s win Thursday. “I think she will take that as a challenge, and she realizes that come (Friday) at 2:00 she’s going to have to be really good for us on both sides.”
Cardaño-Hillary took Indiana’s third matchup against Maryland this season as a challenge indeed. She set the tone from the get-go, putting up two steals before five minutes passed in the first quarter. Cardaño-Hillary had two more in the game to finish with four steals, proving an instrumental part of Indiana’s defense throughout.
She also finished third on the team in scoring with 9 points, behind senior guard Grace Berger’s 16 and Holmes’ 17.
Holmes was the key to Indiana’s victory on Friday, and her team-high scoring total marked the most points she’s put up since Dec. 23 against Southern Illinois University. Despite the injury, she returned to the style of play she’s most known for on Friday, dominating in both the paint and post.
“It was just a matter of me timing my post-ups and knowing where those holes are,” Holmes said. “I think that the girls did a great job of finding me and timing up those post-ups.”
Holmes sustained a knee injury in the beginning of January, returning Feb. 17 against Northwestern in her first game back after over a month of cheering her teammates on from the bench. Holmes, who averaged over 16 points per game before her injury, couldn’t score more than 8 in either of her first two games back.
“It’s been a struggle,” Holmes said about her rehabilitation process. “There’s a lot behind the scenes that was a struggle as well. The trust that my teammates and my coaches have in me has been huge for me.”
Holmes also posted five rebounds against Maryland, showing more of a willingness to compete and get physical than in previous games. Indiana and Maryland both played with intense physicality, racking up 12 and 22 personal fouls, respectively.
Because of Maryland’s prolific fouling, Indiana shot from the free-throw line a total of 20 times. Holmes went 3-3 in her chances from the charity stripe.
“Mack said it the best — she’s just trying to get a little bit better inside of every game as we move forward,” Moren said.
“This morning she said to me that this is the best she’s felt in a while,” Moren said Friday. “So we anticipated her coming out and having a good day.”
Indiana will tip off against Ohio State at 3:30 p.m. Saturday in the Big Ten Tournament semifinals. The last time the two teams matched up, Holmes scored 30 points.