It was an unprecedented atmosphere in Assembly Hall. Literally. Thursday night’s bout between No. 2 Indiana women’s basketball and No. 5 Iowa was staged in front of the highest attending crowd in program history — and every bit of it mattered.
From incessant jeers toward Hawkeye junior sensation Caitlin Clark to Richter-scale causing decibels for Hoosier daggers, IU students and Bloomingtonians did their job. It was then up to the players. With the weight of over 13,000 hopeful fans on its shoulders, head coach Teri Moren’s group delivered.
As much as we’ve lauded Indiana’s influx of transfers and underclassmen, and rightfully so, over the course of this season, it just felt right that such a special win was propelled by the dynamic play of senior forward Mackenzie Holmes and graduate guard Grace Berger — a stalwart duo of this program.
Berger and Holmes led the way with 26 and 24 points, respectively, in what was one of the pairing’s first simultaneously outstanding performances of the year. Offensively, Indiana left little to be desired. Berger got to her spots with ease and was the midrange assassin Hoosier nation has been accustomed to in her storied career.
Freshman guard Yarden Garzon and junior guard Sydney Parrish had relatively underwhelming scoring efforts, but their clutch shots from outside can’t be minimized. Even with Berger’s dominance, it was Holmes’ matchup with Iowa fifth-year senior center Monika Czinano that told the story of the night.
Just last season, the Hawkeyes bested the Hoosiers on three separate occasions, including the Big Ten Tournament Championship. Granted, Holmes was nursing a knee injury and certainly not at full strength in a couple of those games, but Czinano was the catalyst in essentially all three matchups.
On Thursday night, the Iowa big notched a paltry 6 points and fouled out with roughly three minutes remaining in the fourth quarter. Safe to say the rowdy fans didn’t give Czinano the most gracious goodbye on her trek to the bench.
Recently, Clark has been the talk of not just the Big Ten but the country. To Moren’s ire, the Hawkeye superstar has overshadowed a more successful, albeit quieter Hoosier team. Maybe it’s the lack of logo threes and antics, but Indiana simply hasn’t garnered a ton of national attention and respect.
Clark, an all-world scorer with a penchant for getting on the nerves of opposing fanbases, was the obvious point of emphasis for the Hoosiers’ defensive gameplan. Strangely enough, Moren elected to rarely double her and instead left junior guard Chloe Moore-McNeil and senior guard Sara Scalia on frequent islands.
Despite the 35 points, it should be noted that Clark had 28 shots and was pummeled on a handful of drives. Not much was easy. After the game, Clark insisted she wasn’t rattled or thrown out of a rhythm, and she actually said she should have shot the ball more down the stretch.
I admire the confidence — or cockiness — but that’s coming from a staunchly unbiased reporter. The droves of Hoosier faithful, on the other hand, have no journalistic obligations and had free reign to let Clark have it. And boy did they.
Not that Clark didn’t make it easy for them, though. She jawed with Indiana associate head coach Glenn Box early in the game after a foul call and stared down both the Hoosier bench on more than one occasion after 3-point makes.
Her physical, borderline reckless at times, defense sent the fans into a frenzy, and once she airballed a shot in the third quarter, they went outright bananas. Clark couldn’t as much as receive a pass without being bombarded by chants of “Airball! Airball!”
With only one loss on the season — in almost mid-February mind you — the Hoosiers haven’t needed much motivation. Still, it’s possible Clark was the villain Indiana needed to transform from a likeable, winning collective to a mercilessly dominant team.
For how explosive Iowa is offensively, it can’t rely on just Clark to generate wins over the likes of Indiana. Czinano disappointed as the other half of the All-American tandem, and no Hawkeye role player stepped up enough to change the outcome.
That’s the difference between the first and second place teams in the Big Ten. The Hoosiers can afford to have off shooting nights from their snipers. Neither Garzon nor Parrish, the two most electric shooters on the team, scored in double-digits.
But sprinkle in a few made threes here and there, some flashes of brilliance from Scalia and outright magnificence from Holmes and Berger and you have yourself a sweet victory over what’s quickly become a rival Hawkeye foe.
Something’s brewing in Bloomington. The fervor for the Hoosiers is palpable. If Thursday’s win somehow didn’t thrust Indiana into the forefront, I’m not sure what else would.
That’s ok, though. No longer are the Hoosiers just a nice story. Rest assured, they’re planning for something bigger than the validation of pundits — something unforeseen in the history of the program.
With the way things are going, I wouldn’t rule any of it out.