Indiana women’s basketball cruised to a 2-0 start this season, but its next contest won’t be decided so easily. The Hoosiers will go on the road for the first time this season, taking on the No. 11 University of Tennessee.
“It’s everything we need right now,” Indiana head coach Teri Moren said Sunday. “An early test in a ruckus environment that they’ll provide.”
The Lady Volunteers dropped six spots in the AP poll after falling on the road to now-No. 8 Ohio State in their season-opener. However, Tennessee’s early loss by no means diminishes the talent and formidability of Indiana’s foe.
The Lady Vols bring back four starters from a 25-9 team which reached the Sweet Sixteen last season. Along with the returners, Tennessee added several key pieces via the transfer portal, most notably senior forward Rickea Jackson.
Tennessee was picked to finish second in the Southeastern Conference, behind defending champions and current No. 1-ranked University of South Carolina. Jackson and senior guard Jordan Horston and senior center Tamari Keys were selected to the preseason All-SEC team.
Moren said rebounding is Indiana’s primary focus heading into the game. Headlined by the six-foot-six Keys, the Lady Volunteers have plenty of size and guards who aren’t afraid to crash the boards.
“Keeping them off the boards is gonna be our number one key,” Moren said. “Not allowing them to get putbacks or run-outs is the key for us defensively.”
Indiana has dominated the glass through its first two games, outrebounding its opponents by 10 on average. Moren said the rebounding battle will come down to heart and determination rather than skill and boxing out.
Tennessee’s rowdy environment along with its talent and prestige will certainly test Indiana. However, Moren isn’t concerned about the Hoosiers not being up to the task.
“This is a mature group,” Moren said. “Everybody knows the history and tradition they’ve had and still do. They already know that it’s going to be a tremendous challenge.”
Moren specifically noted the maturity of freshman forward Yarden Garzon, who has impressed on the court to start her collegiate career. Garzon has averaged 11.5 points and five rebounds per game thus far and is expected to be pivotal if Indiana is to escape Knoxville with a win.
“Yarden is a special talent,” Moren said. “She needs the real game experience in order to grow, because we need her to grow up quickly.”
According to Moren, the starting lineup is to remain the same as it has been. Additionally, she’s been impressed with the bench unit, an area Indiana has struggled with in recent years.
The game will be a clash of two elite programs and with that comes a star-studded court. Between Tennessee’s trio and Indiana’s stars – who include graduate guard Grace Berger, senior guard Sara Scalia and junior forward Mackenzie Holmes – each team has players who will vie for national awards this season and put their talents on full display Monday night.
Tennessee leads the all-time series 2-0. The two teams last met in 2020, when the Lady Volunteers beat the Hoosiers 66-58 in Bloomington.
Tip-off in Knoxville is scheduled for 6 p.m. Monday at Thompson-Boling Arena. The game will be aired on ESPN2.