The Mack’s Return: No. 5 Indiana defeats Northwestern in Mackenzie Holmes’ first injury return game

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The wait is over. Mack is finally back.

But the return of junior forward Mackenzie Holmes after missing eight games with injury wasn’t the only bright spot Thursday night in the annual Pink Game, as No. 5 Indiana beat Northwestern 69- 58 in a physical Big Ten battle, moving to 11-3 in conference and 19-4 overall.

Not only did the Hoosiers redeem themselves after a troubling upset against unranked Nebraska on Monday night, but Indiana limited Northwestern to just five free throw attempts, a factor that helped head coach Teri Moren win the 100th Assembly Hall Thursday evening.

“You look at some of their previous games (from Northwestern), the games they’ve won, they get to the free throw line 22, 23, 25 times,” Moren said. “It was a very important key for this competition kept them off the free throw line.

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Wildcats senior guard Veronica Burton was a big threat this game, averaging 18 points and scoring 20 on Thursday night. She increased her basketball IQ last summer playing on Team USA alongside IU guard Grace Berger.

With Burton leading the Big Ten in blocks and second in assists, Moren and her team knew they couldn’t let her control the game defensively by giving up the ball.

“She’s (Burton) obviously the head of the snake,” Moren said. “But we also knew she was a little slippery off the ball screen.”

Whether it was a high ball or a horn screen, Indiana’s post plugs protected Burton’s rim. Tip your cap to senior forward Aleksa Gulbe, as she has made it very difficult for Burton to get into the paint and find open shooters.

The Cats pride themselves on not allowing the ball into that game defense, but they were playing blizzard and out of position in their defensive slides, and Gulbe took advantage by sneaking in on the weak side, annoying North West Communication.

Gulbe was excellent offensively – finding openings and cracks in the Cats defense – recording his third double-double of the season with 20 points and 12 rebounds. She was a Northwest assassin on Thursday, and her four-point play in the third is what really gave the momentum in IU’s favor down the stretch.

“We think she’s (Gulbe) one of the best, or best, forwards in our league,” Moren said. “We rely on her so much.”

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Next to Gulbe, goaltender Nicole Cardaño-Hillary continues to be the small but mighty driving force behind this Indiana team. She added 17 points, four rebounds and hit back-to-back triples early in the second. The way it was repeatedly left wide open leaves Indiana in perfect shape in mid-February.

Berger, who also played with a broken nose, added 15 points, his 20th double-digit scoring time in 23 games this season. The Hoosiers shot 60% in the fourth behind seven points from Berger and Cardaño-Hillary, solidifying their defensive lead.

“Not just because of his (Berger’s) ability to attack, shoot and score, but also his ability to facilitate,” Moren said. “With the ball in Grace Berger’s hands, we knew she was going to make the right call by coming off the ball screen.”

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The Hall warmly welcomed Holmes back on Thursday after being out since Jan. 5 with injury. Indiana certainly missed Holmes’ defensive presence and stat line, and it was impressive to see how fearless she played given her knee surgery less than a month ago.

“She looked like she hadn’t played in a month,” Moren said. “It will all come back because she is just too good a player.”

Holmes posted six rebounds and six points for the Hoosiers, and Moren said they just needed her to be comfortable and 100% sure she was in the right frame of mind if she wanted to play. Thursday. Although she didn’t come back with her average of 18, it was a perfect tune-up match for her.

As for the home stretch of the regular season, three of Indiana’s toughest tests against the Big Ten loom, and the brutal loss to Nebraska was something of a wake-up call before those big ones. tasks.

“We were bitterly disappointed to let that one slip away,” Moren said of Nebraska’s loss. “So we’re going to have to control our own destiny as we move forward.”

Indiana returns to Assembly Hall Saturday at 4 p.m. for the team’s first of back-to-back games against Iowa.

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