Indiana Is Here to Crash the Women’s Basketball Party
For most of Mackenzie Holmes’s young life, women’s college basketball has been dominated by a handful of teams.
Since 2010, Connecticut has won five Division I national championships, while the reigning champion, South Carolina, and Baylor each won two apiece. Stanford, Notre Dame and Texas A&M also won one championship each during that span.
“You knew it was going to be one of those teams every year winning the championship,” Holmes, the 6-foot-3 All-Big Ten forward at Indiana, said Sunday in a phone interview.
After reaching the round of 16 last year and the final eight in 2021, Holmes and the Hoosiers (27-3) believe they can crash the Final Four party and contend for the program’s first championship at a school where the storied men’s team has won five. Indiana is one of 26 colleges with both its men’s and women’s teams in the N.C.A.A. tournament this season.
The Indiana women are a No. 1 seed for the first time in program history — just behind unbeaten South Carolina (32-0), which is the top overall seed in the tournament. Indiana opens play Saturday in Bloomington against the winner of a play-in game between Tennessee Tech and Monmouth.
Indiana isn’t alone as a party crasher in women’s basketball. Virginia Tech, also a No. 1 seed, has its highest seeding in program history, after its previous high of fourth, and Utah, a No. 2 seed, had never been higher than a fifth seed. The Hokies, Utes and Hoosiers all hit their highest-ever ranking this season in the Associated Press poll: No. 4 for Virginia Tech, No. 3 for Utah and No. 2 for Indiana.
“Now that it’s kind of up for grabs for anybody, it’s kind of really exciting times to be a part of women’s basketball,” Holmes said.
Led by Holmes, who is averaging 22.3 points and 7.3 rebounds per game, and the fifth-year guard Grace Berger (12.5 points per game), the Hoosiers won their first Big Ten regular-season title since 1983 and sold out Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall for the first time. They averaged 7,361 fans per game, eighth in the nation. Their previous average high was 4,726, set last season.
They went through much of the season with just one loss — to Michigan State in December — before dropping two of their final three games. They lost to Iowa on a buzzer-beater by the national player of the year candidate Caitlin Clark in the final game of the regular season and to Ohio State in the Big Ten tournament semifinals. Still, the Hoosiers were the top defensive team in the Big Ten, allowing opponents an average of 62.3 points per game.
“To not only be selected, but to also get that No. 1 seed — which has never happened in this program — is both thrilling and very humbling,” Coach Teri Moren told reporters after the brackets were announced Sunday night. “We’re grateful for the opportunity that’s ahead of us.”
Moren grew up in Seymour, Ind., at a time when Indiana was ruled by Bob Knight and the men’s program, which won national titles in 1981 and 1987. That same decade, the women’s team made just one N.C.A.A. tournament appearance.
“Growing up in Southern Indiana, all the tradition has been on the men’s side,” Moren, who was among the top high school players in the state, said Sunday in a telephone interview.
Moren chose Purdue for college, won a Big Ten regular-season championship in 1991 and went into coaching. After four seasons as the coach at Indiana State, she took over at Indiana in 2014.
Now, her program has been to four consecutive N.C.A.A. tournaments.
“Our goal from the day we stepped foot on this campus is that we wanted to create our own tradition,” Moren said.
This year, the Hoosiers have seven new players. But Moren has blended stars like Holmes and Berger, who missed eight games with a knee injury, with the returners and transfers to form a team that ranks sixth nationally at 81.5 points per game. The transfers Sydney Parrish (Oregon) and Sara Scalia (Minnesota), along with Yarden Garzon, a freshman from Israel, combine to average 33 points per game.
Moren tries to inspire her players with phrases like “If you’re juiceless, you’re useless,” meaning they need to bring energy and effort to everything they do.
“One that she reiterates the most is, ‘How you do anything is how you do everything,’ because that can translate on and off the court, from taking everything seriously and knowing that every detail matters,” Holmes said.
The winner of Indiana’s first game will advance to face either No. 8 Oklahoma State or No. 9 Miami in the second round in Bloomington. If the Hoosiers advance out of the weekend, they will travel to Greenville, S.C., for the round of 16 rather than Seattle, the site of the other two regionals.
“Nothing against Seattle, but that’s a long trip,” Moren said. “We’re thrilled with where we’re being sent. I don’t know how these guys feel, but I think a great dose of sunshine is in our future — we hope.”
The women’s Final Four is in Dallas, and Holmes and her teammates hope to be playing there — and creating new history in the annals of Indiana basketball.
“Indiana has such a rich history, but not particularly on the women’s side,” Holmes said. “So that’s been a goal since I’ve been here, I know since Coach Moren’s been here, to really build that reputation on the women’s side.
“We have the fans, we have the facilities, we have everything you need to build a great program.”