MINNEAPOLIS — For as rare as the occasions have been this season, when Indiana women’s basketball trails after a quarter — or half — a comeback is almost a guarantee.
In the Big Ten Tournament quarterfinals against No. 9 seed Michigan State Friday afternoon, the No. 1-seeded Hoosiers looked utterly out of sync and unprepared for a feisty and explosive Spartans group.
Graduate guard Grace Berger and junior guard Sydney Parrish couldn’t buy buckets, and Michigan State graduate guard Kamaria McDaniel was getting anything and everything she wanted against an uncharacteristically docile Hoosier defense.
Head coach Teri Moren preaches doing the little things well. When shots aren’t falling from deep or foul calls are benefitting the opposition, you better hope you’re rebounding and making smart decisions with the ball if your jersey reads Indiana.
In the first half, and especially the first quarter, the Spartans dominated the boards and the turnover battle. Moren was irate, associate head coach Glenn Box was so dejected he couldn’t even muster anger and Parrish repeatedly cried “Box out!” from the bench.
For only the third time this season, I was worried the Hoosiers couldn’t overcome the deficit. It started with 10 after one frame. The poor play of Berger and Parrish severely stuck out. The former, a cold-blooded assassin, and the latter, an athletic and sharpshooting wing, left the Hoosiers desperately searching for a hero.
After some brilliance from senior forward Mackenzie Holmes, senior guard Sara Scalia and junior guard Chloe Moore-McNeil, Indiana began to weather the storm and turn the comeback bid into a more realistic notion.
Then, not even a mere minute after checking into the game, junior guard Kiandra Browne went down. Hard. A tough — albeit non-malicious — hip check from Spartan senior forward Taiyier Parks sent Browne crumbling to the Target Center court.
Prior to Friday afternoon, Browne recorded a total of nine minutes on the season. The last time she saw action was Feb. 19 against Purdue. Regarded as a leader and a prominent, spirited personality, there was a palpable sense of dread and eerie silence when Browne writhed in pain for minutes on end.
In a “weird way” as Moren coined it, Browne’s injury was the mental recollection the Hoosiers needed to spark any semblance of a run. As the Canada native was wheeled off the floor with her right leg elevated, the Indiana starters convened for a huddle.
Seeing the misfortune of such a well-liked teammate didn’t just kickstart a series of Indiana buckets — it transformed the Hoosiers into a machine. A 7-0 run ensued Browne’s exit, and it was carried out by the duo that would serve as the team’s primary saving graces: Holmes and Scalia.
As the Hoosiers trotted into the tunnel for halftime, the 6-point deficit appeared arbitrary. It was no longer a matter of if the Hoosiers would come back, but when. According to Moren and Holmes, nothing changed from a schematic standpoint heading into the second half.
It just took more of those little things. Feeding Holmes down low more often and Scalia catching fire from deep didn’t hurt, either. Before fouling out late in the fourth quarter, Holmes tallied 27 points on 8-13 from the field and 11-14 from the foul line.
Like in virtually every game this season, when Indiana needed a bucket, more often than not it turned to Holmes. Despite her point total, the Hoosiers actually found some scoring balance in the second half to climb to a lead.
Scalia, the Minnesota native back playing in her home state, displayed the confidence that has been inconsistent in her first campaign as a Hoosier. Open looks were guaranteed. While her 20 points on 4-6 from range and 8-8 from the line shone brightest, she was a specialist in the nitty gritty work.
A former star at Minnesota, Scalia has had to adjust her game as Indiana’s sixth woman. Her team-oriented mentality is shared by each and every member of the team — it was displayed in their supreme second-half mettle.
If you haven’t figured it out already, the Hoosiers aren’t reliant on one player. I still have hardly even mentioned Moore-McNeil’s masterful and highly efficient 19 point, 11 assist double-double. When it came down to it, Indiana needed everyone.
Freshman guard Yarden Garzon kicked off the second half with a triple. Berger, despite notching just 8 points, fired up the crowd and even showed some swagger after each tough bucket, and Parrish was as relieved as everyone else when she broke her 3-point drought.
Moren said the first game of the tournament is the most important. Indiana’s 94-85 win on the surface doesn’t exemplify the fight and determination it took for the Hoosiers to continue on in the Big Ten Tournament.
Was the first-half play concerning? Absolutely. But it’s a game of two halves, isn’t it? If Indiana can come back like this consistently, by all means play as poorly as you need for the first 20 minutes.
After all, there’s no style points in March.