Nothing was too out of the ordinary in No. 11 Indiana women’s basketball’s 86-49 thrashing of the Vermont Catamounts on Tuesday night.
Senior forward Mackenzie Holmes reestablished temporary residence in the paint. Graduate student forward Grace Berger was as reliable as ever on both ends of the floor. After a meaningless foul call late in the third quarter, a Hoosier fan coined it “the worst call (he’d) ever seen.”
But in Indiana’s season opener, Assembly Hall welcomed someone whose play style almost seemed mythical.
Freshman forward Yarden Garzon, a native of Israel, stands at 6-feet, 3-inches tall. Her smooth movements on the dribble and pull-up shot ability resemble a guard, but she can still impose herself on defenders due to her stature. Simply put, she’s a unicorn of a basketball player. Up close, her size is truly impressive. After the win, head coach Teri Moren said that she looks bigger than Holmes, the team’s center.
Moren hasn’t necessarily displayed an aversion to leaning on freshmen in her tenure, but it’s certainly been a rare sight. Garzon cracked the starting lineup on Tuesday night, marking the first time a freshman started since Berger did so in 2018.
It wouldn’t have been a surprise for anyone in Garzon’s shoes to play passively early on against the Catamounts. After all, sharing the floor with Berger and Holmes implies a clear sidekick responsibility.
Instead of shying away from open looks and kicking the ball out prematurely, Garzon – and I can’t stress this enough – absolutely took over. I hope you’re not taking the phrase, “took over” lightly. She was spotting up and knocking down shots with ease, barreling to the hoop and playing stout on the defensive end. There were times on Tuesday night where she was simply unstoppable.
Her final line of 19 points, four boards, four assists and two blocks is gaudy on its own. How about factoring in five connections from 3-point range out of eight attempts? A plus-minus of plus 24? Are you getting the picture?
“She’s a crazy competitor. Let’s remember she’s been playing with pros,” Moren said in the postgame press conference. “At times I think she can play one through five if you need her to. She just makes plays that I don’t know that I’ve seen a freshman make in some time.”
I consider myself a rational person and often try to manage expectations. Over a decade of rooting for New York sports teams — and the ensuing countless letdowns — will do that to a person. So, after watching the Hoosiers dismantle an obviously inferior team, I’m not rushing to outlandish conclusions.
Garzon is different. Indiana has seen some brilliant freshmen but never like this. The most important part of her emergence is the fact that, as was evident on Tuesday night, she won’t have to carry the load.
Largely due to the influx of transfers this offseason, Indiana is ushering in an up-tempo, shooting-centric team that no longer has to rely on flawless defensive performances to win games. Garzon, an uber-talented and athletic chess-piece, is integral to that structure.
If the first game of the season was any indication of what’s to come, Holmes will be Holmes, Berger will be Berger and junior guard Chloe Moore-McNeil figures to expand on the dazzling spurts she displayed in her first couple years.
With the embarrassment of riches surrounding her, Garzon has time to refine her craft in her freshman campaign. Yet, as Moren and multiple of her teammates noted in the offseason, Garzon entered Bloomington as an already polished player.
I don’t think I can reiterate this enough: Garzon was an unprecedented recruit to Indiana’s program from a versatility perspective. She is 18 years old, and just led the Hoosiers in scoring in their season opener. Those are the facts.
I’ll try not to get ahead of myself, but it’s hard to not envision her leading this team in the coming years. In the meantime, I urge anyone and everyone to check out highlights, tune into upcoming games and enjoy the sensation that is Garzon.