In all three matchups between Indiana women’s basketball and Iowa last season, the Hawkeyes’ then-senior center Monika Czinano carved up the Hoosier defense to the tune of nearly 28 points per game and a trio of wins.
In those three contests — all of which were played in a 15-day span and the last of which was for the Big Ten Championship in Indianapolis — Indiana forward Mackenzie Holmes was far from 100% physically. She suffered a knee injury in early January 2022, requiring surgery and sidelining her for a month and a half between games.
When Holmes did make her return in a game against Northwestern two days before the first Iowa matchup, it was clear she was not playing at the same caliber as before her injury. While she was able to progress and make more of an impact as the Hoosiers made their runs in the Big Ten and NCAA Tournaments, both Holmes and head coach Teri Moren have said she was not fully healthy after she came back.
As a result of the Hoosiers’ best post player being hobbled, Czinano was able to take advantage and lead her team to three victories and a conference championship.
“I'm not who I was when I came back from my surgery last season, and I tried to put that behind me,” Holmes said Thursday. “I learned from it, and I think I'm better because of it, but I try not to think too much about it because I'm not who I was coming back to surgery last year.”
Thursday’s game between the No. 2 Hoosiers and No. 5 Hawkeyes — the first matchup between the teams this year — however, provided a different story. With a fully healthy Holmes in the post, Indiana held Czinano to just 6 points and won the game 87-78 in front of a record crowd in Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall.
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After the game, Holmes said she knew Czinano, an All-Big Ten selection last season, would provide a difficult assignment.
“I knew the task at hand, and I knew the type of player Czinano is going into the game,” Holmes said. “So, I really just tried to have a defensive mindset going into this game knowing that it wasn't going to be easy but just trying to be myself. Not doing anything special or out of the ordinary and, you know, just play hard for 40 minutes.”
Although it was a battle in the post all game with the pair of 6’3” bigs getting physical and fighting for position on every possession on both ends of the court, Holmes managed to totally shut Czinano down. Czinano only managed to get just six shots up, turned the ball over four times and was largely a non-factor when Iowa was on offense.
Life was just as miserable for Czinano on the other end of the court too. After struggling in the three games last year, Holmes exploded for 24 points — just two behind graduate guard Grace Berger’s team-high — and was able to draw calls and keep Czinano in foul trouble throughout the game.
[Related: Berger and Holmes deliver, lift No. 2 Indiana women’s basketball over No. 5 Iowa 87-78]
Despite playing just 26 minutes, Czinano was called for her fifth foul with three minutes remaining in what was a foul-heavy game throughout. The program record 13,046 fans in attendance — besting the previous record set during the 2018 WNIT Championship — cheered as Czinano walked to the bench, chanting “LEFT! RIGHT!” with each step and finally “SIT DOWN!” once she reached her final destination at the end of the bench.
The win — arguably the biggest regular-season victory in program history — gives Indiana the standalone lead in the Big Ten with a 13-1 conference record. The Hawkeyes and Czinano will have another chance to challenge that lead, however, when the Hoosiers travel to an already sold-out Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City on Feb. 26.
Follow reporters Will Foley (@foles24) and Matt Sebree (@mattsebree) and columnist Matt Press (@MattPress23) for updates throughout the Indiana women’s basketball season.