By Skip Daley – South Central Indiana News Network
69-58 was the final score with Indiana defeating a hungry Northwestern team on Thursday evening at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall, but the story is much larger than the individual win.
When stadium announcer Jeremy Gray went through the starting line-up for tonight’s game between #5 Indiana and visiting Northwestern, the crowd went crazy when he got to her name . . . Mackenzie Holmes was back in action for the first time since the beginning of January, after suffering a knee injury which required an operation.
The trainers originally predicted 4-6 weeks for rehabilitation, but her dedication and hard work toward the rehab had her back on the court at the minimum.
“She’s worked extremely hard,” Said Coach Moren regarding Holmes’ return to the court, “She’s done everything, every single day, without overdoing it.”
She scored her first points on the free throw line with 4 minutes remaining in the first quarter, giving IU a 13-9 lead. Playing 23 minutes in the game, she scored 6 total points and pulled down 6 rebounds, providing an extra spark during this important battle.
Northwestern was on a high from taking down #4 Michigan in their last game, and played with the same determination, hoping to follow suit against the Hoosiers. The Wildcats won the tip-off and were neck in neck with Indiana every step of the way. Led by Senior Guard Veronica Burton, the Wildcats went and impressive 25-60 from the field, and knocked down six 3-pointers.
“She’s obviously the head of the snake,” said IU Head Coach Teri Moren, describing Burton, who scored 20 points, had 5 rebounds, and 4 assists.
Indiana shot well, rebounded well, and defended well; things they were unable to do earlier in the week in their double-digit loss to Nebraska. The Hoosiers did turn the ball over 10 times in the first half, but were able to adjust when they returned from the locker room. Overall, Indiana shot 48% from the field and went 17-19 with free throws. Additionally, Indiana played a clean game, with the Wildcats only reaching the free throw line 5 times during the contest.
Aleksa Gulbe turned out another stellar performance, scoring a game high 20 points, and grabbing 12 rebounds. 4 of those points came on a clutch 3-pointer with the plus-one after being fouled in the act. That bucket came with less than 2 minutes remaining in the 3rd quarter, giving Indiana the lead, which they did not relinquish.
Indiana also saw offensive productivity from Nicole Cardano-Hillary, scoring 17, and Grace Berger had 15 points. As a team, they looked well rested, focused, and flexible in their handling of this talented Wildcat team.
Moving forward, IU has 3 games remaining in the regular season. They are currently 19-4 overall, and leading the Big Ten with a conference record of 11-2. They play #22 Iowa at home on Saturday afternoon at 4pm, take to the road to replay Iowa on Monday, and conclude on Friday the 25th with a road game against defending conference champs, #13 Maryland.