What happened for Indiana women’s basketball over the weekend and what it means for Thursday’s game against UNC – Inside the Hall
By now, anyone who follows women’s basketball knows what happened in Las Vegas over the weekend.
The Las Vegas Invitational, which took place at The Mirage Hotel & Casino, made headlines for the wrong reasons. Disappointing broadcasts, injuries and the incredibly underwhelming – and misleading – venue overshadowed all successful teams.
Games were played in a ballroom at the hotel, with incredibly minimal fan seating. The “scoreboard” was a television that, in addition to looking like an elementary school setup, was unplugged several times, causing the game to stop. Paramedics took 45 minutes to arrive after an Auburn player was injured.
Each game was available only on FloSports, a streaming service that costs $30 and allows most fans to follow Twitter for updates. In short, the environment was more like a middle school or high school tournament than a tournament that hosted the number six team in the country and other strong competitors.
Clearly, women’s basketball needs to find other ways to continue promoting the game. Fortunately, with teams like Indiana, opportunities are there for the taking. The Hoosiers went 2-0 on the weekend and remain undefeated with a 7-0 record for their second-best start in Teri Moren’s nine years as head coach. In the latest Associated Press poll released Monday, Indiana is ranked No. 5.
But it’s not easy to enjoy those victories when the overall game of women’s basketball is suffering.
“This is not what was described to us as far as what the venue was going to look like, what the setup was going to look like,” Moren said after the tournament was over. “We have an obligation to develop our game and we completely missed this opportunity.”
Fortunately for the Hoosiers, the program has plenty of other opportunities to promote women’s basketball — starting with Thursday’s game against UNC. The Tar Heels come to Bloomington with the same 6-0 record as the Hoosiers.
UNC made a run in the NCAA Tournament last season, reaching the regional semifinals before falling to eventual champion South Carolina. With Deja Kelly (17.8 ppg) and Alyssa Ustby (15.5 ppg) leading the way and continuing their scoring prowess from last season, the Tar Heels will likely present some challenges.
Here are some things to look for in Indiana’s approach to the game:
Grace Berger’s injury leaves a big hole
Indiana’s lead guard and on-field facilitator fell hard to the floor during the first minute of Friday night’s game against Auburn. When he fell after going up for a rebound, it reportedly appeared as if a player fell on Berger’s knee. She walked out of the match unable to put any weight on it, but at halftime she walked on her own.
The mother said Berger was scheduled to have an MRI Sunday night, and while the Mother remains optimistic, the timeline for Berger’s return remains unknown.
While Indiana went on to beat Auburn and Memphis, there’s no doubt the graduate student’s absence was felt. Without Berger to run the offense and call the plays on the field, the onus was and is on the rest of the team to contribute just a little more.
Yarden Garzon continues to come into his own
Few freshmen, especially in Moren’s program, start from the moment they come to court. There was something special about Yarden Garzon that led to her getting one of the five places. Now it feels like we’re starting to see why on a more consistent basis.
Garzon is averaging 12.9 points per game. She has reached double figures in Indiana’s last four games. Garzon leads the team in 3-point shooting and has connected on 18 of his 34 attempts.
At the weekend, Garzon took on the role of point guard with Berger on the sidelines. There were glimpses of that ball-handling ability in previous games, which could become a regular occurrence until Berger returns. But whatever role she plays, Garzon will also play every other role.
Just a freshman, Garzon is already considered one of Indiana’s more well-rounded players. UNC will be a good test of her abilities against a higher level team.
Mackenzie Holmes and Sara Scalia have begun to run the offense
There was very little question whether Mackenzie Holmes would be one of Indiana’s primary contributors on offense. Averaging 20 points per game and showing no signs of slowing down, Indiana’s sophomore leader is again the “go-to” in the post.
At 6-foot-3, Holmes will be dwarfed by only one Tar Heel, 6-foot-4 Teonni Key, who has played just three total minutes this season. Overall, Indiana will have the height advantage, which should prove fruitful for Holmes and others on both ends of the court.
But the Hoosiers don’t have to rely solely on their height below the basket, with Sara Scalia looking to heat up from beyond the arc. Scalia was one of the Big Ten’s top 3-point shooters last season and is expected to continue that with Indiana. Six games in, she is averaging 2.6 3-pointers per game.
Scalia is also one of five Hoosiers to average in double figures, with 13.3 points per game. If she can continue to take three or more shots from deep, the entire team will be better for it, and UNC will have its hands full.
(Photo credit: IU Athletics)