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The Indiana Daily Student

sports women's basketball

Indiana women’s basketball looks to start NCAA Tournament run at home vs. Fairfield

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When Indiana women’s basketball received a No. 4 seed in the NCAA Tournament on Selection Sunday, the Hoosiers knew they would be hosting the first and second rounds inside the familiar confines of Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall. However, what they might have been less prepared to find out, their No. 13 seeded opponent would be Fairfield University — an AP Top 25 team who hasn’t lost a game since November. 

The Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Champion Stags boast an impressive 31-1 resume, most recently overcoming a 13-point deficit to defeat Niagara University in the conference tournament championship Mar. 16 to extend their win streak to 29 straight.  

Led by senior guard Janelle Brown and freshman forward Meghan Andersen, Fairfield boasts a fast-paced team-oriented offense, predicated on finding open looks early and often from all over the court. 

“They share the ball extremely well and I think all of them have the green light,” Indiana head coach Teri Moren said Friday. “They play with a lot of freedom, a lot of movement, a lot of cutting, going to put pressure on us defensively.” 

While Indiana’s bread and butter this season has been efficiency — leading Division I by shooting 51% as a team — Fairfield’s may very well be volume. The Stags attempt a staggering 26.4 3-pointers per game, most of which are opened up by a stark emphasis on driving to the basket to produce kick out looks.  

That game plan is primarily facilitated by the dynamic Brown, who leads all Division 1 guards in field goal percentage, shooting 57.8%. Her ability to get to the rim in addition to Andersen’s paint presence provides Fairfield with a barrage of high-percentage looks from beyond the arc. Indiana graduate student forward Mackenzie Holmes commented on the Stags’ dynamic roster during her pre-game press conference Friday morning. 

“We’ve had to really be focused in these last few days of prep of just locking in on knowing their personnel,” Holmes said. “We’re very much aware of how talented of a team this group is.” 

Fortunately for the Hoosiers, there is no lack of talent within their own core and a multitude of reasons for why they will be the heavy favorites come game-day.  

Holmes’ paint dominance paired with the lights-out shooting of fifth-year senior guard Sara Scalia fueled Indiana to its fifth straight NCAA Tournament appearance, backed by a 24-5 record which includes a win over No. 1 seed Iowa on Feb. 22. The Hoosiers will have a major size advantage over Fairfield —   who has just three players six feet tall or higher — and may opt to prioritize Holmes inside as a result. 

Indiana’s all-time program leading scorer averages 20 points and 6.9 rebounds per game and was recently named to the AP All-American Third team. With her last year of eligibility coming to a close, Holmes will play in one of her final games in Assembly Hall when taking on the Stags. However, the Hoosier star remains focused on the task ahead. 

“We’re wasting time if we’re looking too far into the future,” Holmes said. “I think we just take it day by day, possession by possession. We’re going to really just have to stay locked in for 40 minutes and not worry about the future just yet.” 

The cream and crimson’s last time out resulted in a disappointing Big Ten Tournament exit to Michigan on March 8, in a game where Holmes saw limited action due to a late-season knee injury. Indiana held a 17-point 3rd quarter lead, but the Wolverines stormed back as the Hoosier forward watched from the bench. 

In some ways, the early exit ended up being a blessing in disguise, giving Holmes two weeks to recover to full strength. She has practiced without restrictions leading up to the game and should be close to, if not 100% against the Stags. 

With Holmes back in the lineup, there is every reason to expect an inspired Hoosiers team to try and make a strong opening statement in the initial round on the national stage. Regardless, Moren is fully aware of the unexpected nature of college basketball in March. 

“They call it madness for a reason,” Moren said. “We gotta show up and everybody has to do their job.” 

Indiana’s first round matchup with Fairfield is set to tip off at 1:30 p.m. Saturday with the game being televised on ESPN2. 

Follow reporters Dalton James (@DaltonMJames) and Quinn Richards (@Quinn_richa), columnist Ryan Canfield (@_ryancanfield) and photographer Olivia Bianco (@theoliviabianco) for updates throughout the Indiana women’s basketball season. 

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