Like Last Year Hoosiers Play A Nailbiter Vs. Illinois At Home But This Time It Was Expected
Women's Team Knocks Off Illini In Big Ten Home Opener 77-71
Assembly Hall Where The Hoosiers Edged The Illini
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Bloomington-Just over 12 Months ago the same scenario played out in Bloomington. In late 2022, Illinois was playing IU toe-to-toe and the game was there for taking in the final minute. Also, the stars of each team, Makira Cook and Mackenzie Holmes were trading blows before Indiana finally won 65-61.
Fast forward to Sunday and the identical scenario was playing out. However, this time there was a big difference. Last December, the Illini were coming off a terrible season and few realized they were anything special. This likely led to nervousness about how good the Hoosiers were after program stalwarts Nicole Cardano-Hillary, Aleksa Gulbe, and Ali Patberg all graduated. Sure, Indiana had two good wins over North Carolina and Tennessee and were undefeated. However, what was easily the worst program in the Big Ten over the last two decades nearly stole a contest they seemingly had no business winning.
What no one knew was this was a heavy-weight showdown led by Cook and new coach Shauna Green as there was a masterful turnaround happening that was making Illinois one of the top squads in the conference. Today, no such questions arose as it is known the Illini are talented and can beat anyone in the country. Sure, they sat at just 6-5. However, they have played a lot of top competition to the wire and can strike at any moment.
Indeed, last time 5,000+ nervous fans saw a Holmes go-ahead lay-up late to edge out the victory. This time fans trickled into the balcony and 11,600 Indiana partisans (the sixth-largest crowd in program history) were loud throughout as two of the most talented sides in America traded blows.
Holmes said Assembly Hall has the top support in the country and helped carry her squad to victory.
“You can really feel the energy the fans bring,” Holmes said. “I’ve been an advocate that Hoosier Nation has the best fans in the country.”
IU coach Teri Moren agreed with Holmes that their team has really good crowds but added they also are well versed in the game of hoops.
“When you’re at Indiana you can expect to have fans that have an understanding of the game of basketball,” Moren said. “One of the great beauties of our crowd since I have been here is that they know when we need them.”
In the end, the No. 16/15 Hoosiers were just a little better and won 77-71. It allowed the Cream and Crimson to improve 11-1 overall and 2-0 in the Big Ten while surviving their first close game this season and for the second year in a row against the same neighbors to the west.
Holmes said despite knowing their opposition was top-notch this time, it doesn’t ever change how they get ready for a given opponent.
“Every game in the Big Ten is going to be competitive”, she said. “We don’t prepare any differently night in and night out. We know we have to really focus and lock in on preparation.”
Led by Holmes, Chloe Moore-McNeil, and a late clutch basket from Yarden Garzon everything worked out in the end for the home side. At times, it looked like heroics would not be needed as Indiana controlled much of the first half. However, Cook hit from long range at the halftime buzzer to trim the margin to 6. It would continue to get closer before IU went on a run to take a 48-37 lead halfway through the third quarter. However, the Illini would come back again for good and blows would be traded in a nail-biter the rest of the way.
With just under four minutes left, IU was clinging to a 61-60 lead before six Holmes free throws, and a Cook three-pointer and mid-range jumper in between saw the IU lead at 66-65 with under two minutes left. Holmes then made a layup and Cook two free throws before Garzon’s triple from the corner with 41 seconds left finally gave the Cream and Crimson the four-point margin they needed to soon hold on.
Holmes led Indiana with 30 points, Moore-McNeil added 19, and Garzon chipped in 12. Meanwhile, Cook’s 24 led three double-digit Illinois scorers.
The Hoosiers’ next contest is on Thursday when Michigan comes to town at 7 pm on BTN. The Wolverines at their best are as good as anyone in the country and knocked off an elite Ohio State squad on Saturday. They also blew out these same Illini on the road. However, they have a head-scratching loss to Toledo and were blown out by Ole Miss and Florida. They sit at 11-3 overall and are led by Laila Phelia at 15.1 points with her team often going as she goes.