No. 6 Indiana women’s basketball continues one of its toughest stretches of its schedule Monday evening. The Hoosiers travel to Ann Arbor to face No. 13 Michigan.
Both squads have found their groove as of late, as the Hoosiers have won five straight games while the Wolverines ride in with a three-game win streak. Both teams come in carried by momentum, but one will leave with one more in the loss column.
Each team comes in with a successful season up to date, but neither have done it without a makeover from last season. 17-1 Indiana has replaced its three lost starters from last season’s Sweet Sixteen appearance through the transfer portal, recruiting and off the bench. 16-3 Michigan has replaced two lost starters from last season’s Elite Eight run off the bench.
Most notably, the Wolverines lost First-Team All-American and second-round WNBA draftee forward Naz Hillmon. Hillmon left Michigan as more than a program legend, one of the most accomplished Wolverines in Michigan basketball history — men’s or women’s team.
In the two teams’ lone contest last season, Hillmon scored 21 points and grabbed five rebounds to help then-No.6 Michigan top then-No. 5 Indiana 65-50. Hillmon did so on 57% shooting, as the Hoosiers felt the absence of then-junior forward Mackenzie Holmes who was sidelined due to injury.
Heading into Monday night, Holmes is having a Hillmon-esque season to lead Indiana. The star senior is averaging 21.7 points and 8.2 rebounds per game, doing so on 68% shooting from the field — a mark good for second in the nation. With the Hoosiers No. 6 ranking along with her numbers, Holmes is making a strong case to be a First-Team All-American.
Holmes has been Indiana’s go-to all season to replace its lost production from last season, but the Wolverines have replaced Hillmon’s efforts by committee. Michigan’s trio of leading scorers — graduate forward Emily Kiser (17.6), sophomore guard Leila Phelia (16.7) and fifth-year guard Leigha Brown (15.8) — account for 50.1 of Michigan’s 76.9 points per game, just shy of two-thirds of the scoring production.
Two of Michigan’s three losses on the season have come from the brutality of the Big Ten’s best — a 66-57 loss at No. 3 Ohio State and a 94-85 loss against Iowa. Its sole non-conference loss, however, was a puzzling one. The Wolverines suffered a 71-68 home loss against the University of Toledo early in the season
Since dropping its first, and as of now only, contest at Michigan State, the Hoosiers have recovered with five consecutive wins. Holmes has led the charge, but the reinstatement of graduate guard Grace Berger following a knee injury has helped the cause.
Indiana has been able to continue its win streak despite its difficult schedule. The Hoosiers’ game at Michigan will be their third ranked opponent of their last four games — beating then-No. 9 Maryland 68-61 and then-No. 21 Illinois 83-72.
Monday night’s duel will be one of extreme significance in the Big Ten picture. Indiana has the opportunity to separate itself from No. 10 Iowa in second place or tie the Hawkeyes and No. 2 Ohio State for first, depending on those teams’ Monday night contest in Columbus. On the other hand, a Michigan win could propel the Wolverines from fifth place to a tie for second, also dependent on the top-10 game in Columbus.
Indiana and Michigan are set to tip off at 8:15 p.m. Monday at the Crisler Center. The game will be available to watch on BTN.