What happened for Indiana women’s basketball over the weekend, and what it means for Thursday’s game against UNC
By now, everybody who follows women’s college 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 any success teams had.
Games were played in a ballroom in the hotel, with incredibly minimal fan seating. The “scoreboard” was a TV that, beyond looking like an elementary school setup, was unplugged multiple times causing stoppages in the game. Paramedics took 45 minutes to arrive after an Auburn player was injured.
Every game was only available on FloSports, a streaming service that costs $30, leaving most fans to follow Twitter for any updates. In short, the environment was more similar to a middle school or high school tournament than a tournament hosting the number six team in the country and other strong competitors.
Clearly, women’s basketball will have to find other ways to continue to promote the game. Luckily, 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 isn’t easy to enjoy those victories when the overall game of women’s basketball suffers.
“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 ended. “We have an obligation to grow our game, and we completely missed on this opportunity.”
Fortunately for the Hoosiers, the program has many other opportunities to promote women’s basketball — starting with their game against UNC on Thursday. The Tar Heels will come into 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 pose some challenges.
Here are some things to watch for in Indiana’s approach to the game:
Grace Berger’s injury leaves a big hole
Indiana’s lead guard and on-the-court facilitator fell to the floor hard within the first minute of Friday night’s game against Auburn. Falling after going up for a rebound, word is it seemed as though a player fell on Berger’s knee. She exited the game unable to put weight on it, but by halftime was walking on her own.
Moren said Berger was scheduled to get an MRI Sunday evening, and while Moren remains optimistic, the timeline for Berger’s return is still unknown.
While Indiana went on to beat Auburn and Memphis, there’s no question that the absence of the graduate student was felt. Without Berger to run the offense and call the plays on the court, the onus was, and is, on the rest of the team to contribute just a little bit more.
Yarden Garzon continues to come into her own
Few freshmen, especially in Moren’s program, start from the instant they get to the court. There was something special about Yarden Garzon that led to her getting one of those five spots. Now, it feels like we’re beginning 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 her 34 attempts.
Over the weekend, Garzon took on the role of point guard with Berger on the sidelines. There were flashes of that ball-handling ability in previous games, which may become a regular occurrence until Berger returns. But regardless of what 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 for her ability against a higher-level team.
Mackenzie Holmes and Sara Scalia have begun to run the offense
There was very little question as to whether or not 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 other main leader is again the “go-to” in the post.
At 6-foot-3, Holmes will be outmatched by just one Tar Heel, 6-foot-4 Teonni Key, who has only played a total of three 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 won’t need to rely solely on their height under the basket, with Sara Scalia seeming 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’s averaging 2.6 3-pointers per game.
Scalia is also one of the five Hoosiers averaging double figures, at 13.3 points per game. If she can stay making 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)