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Mar 28, 2024 9:05 am

Mackenzie Holmes, Indiana brace for undefeated South Carolina

Mackenzie Holmes

ALBANY, N.Y. — Before Mackenzie Holmes stepped foot on the campus of Indiana University, the school’s women’s basketball program had never been past the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

Now, the fourth-seeded Hoosiers are in the Sweet 16 for the third time with the fifth-year All-America forward leading the way.

“It means everything. This is the vision that coach (Teri) Moren had for this program, and I knew when I got on campus I wanted to be a part of it,” Holmes said after Indiana’s 75-68 victory over No. 5 seed Oklahoma on Monday in the second round. “Just to be able to be a small piece that have history is amazing.”

The path to advancing in the Albany Region 1 is far from easy for Indiana, however.

On Friday, the Hoosiers will face No. 1 overall seed South Carolina for the right to advance to the Elite Eight.

To avoid becoming the next victim of the undefeated Gamecocks (34-0), Indiana (26-5) will have to play near-perfect basketball. And the Hoosiers will need everyone to step up, not just Holmes.

“I just think it’s that it can be anybody’s night, night-in and night-out,” Holmes said. “We have so many threats, we’re so well-balanced, and I think it’s just our maturity level and our composure and the competitiveness that we have that we are never going to quit, no matter what the score is.”

The Hoosiers did receive 29 points from Holmes against Oklahoma, but they also got 17 points from Sydney Parrish and 12 from Sara Scalia. Parrish, Scalia and Yarden Garzon combined for 15 assists, too.

That sort of varied offensive firepower will be needed against a South Carolina team that ranks first nationally in opponent field-goal percentage (31.7). And against the North Carolina Tar Heels in the second round, the Gamecocks showed they can stand out on offense too, scoring 88 points.

Freshman guard MiLaysia Fulwiley powered the Gamecocks in that dominant 88-41 victory over the Tar Heels, scoring 20 points on 4-of-7 3-point shooting to go with nine rebounds. Fellow rookie Tessa Johnson played well too, knocking down a trio of 3-pointers in a crucial stretch that helped the Gamecocks pull away early.

Both Fulwiley and Johnson have been key for South Carolina this season as coach Dawn Staley replaced her entire starting five from last season’s squad, which was undefeated until a Final Four loss to Iowa.

Fulwiley is second on the team in scoring with an average of 12.2 points per game, while Johnson has the second-best free-throw percentage (85.0) and is shooting 43.3 percent from 3-point range.

“They see themselves as being integral parts of our success,” Staley said of Fulwiley and Johnson. “And they didn’t back down from it.”

Much of the focus in Friday’s game will be in the paint as two of the best post players in the country — Indiana’s Holmes and South Carolina’s Kamilla Cardoso — will battle. Both earned spots on the Associated Press All-America team this season, with Cardoso landing on the second team and Holmes on the third.

The 6-foot-4 Holmes is one of the most efficient scorers in the country, ranking fourth nationally in field-goal percentage (65.7) while averaging 20 points per game. Cardoso – at 6-foot-7 – mostly is regarded for her defense as she averages 2.6 blocks and 9.5 rebounds per game, but she also leads the Gamecocks in scoring with 13.9 points per game.

The Albany 1 Region went mostly chalk in the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament, as No. 2 seed Notre Dame (28-6) and No. 3 seed Oregon State (26-7) also advanced.

Despite being depleted by injuries, the Fighting Irish rolled to two victories in South Bend, Ind., in the first and second rounds, beating No. 15 seed Kent State by 14 points and No. 7 seed Ole Miss by 15. Notre Dame has played all season without All-American guard Olivia Miles, and it lost leading shot-blocker Kylee Watson to a knee injury in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament.

Aside from a minute or two here and there for players way down the bench, Notre Dame has mostly used a six-player rotation.

Hannah Hidalgo and Sonia Citron each topped 38 minutes played in both wins. Hidalgo had a double-double against Kent State, and Citron had one against Ole Miss.

As long as those two and Maddy Westbeld – who had 20 points against the Rebels – are playing well, Notre Dame looks difficult to beat. And a zone scheme on defense has helped, too.

“I think the important thing is for one of the three of us is to set the tone early,” Westbeld said. “I think that’s kind of where we are at this point. The three of us are kind of the leaders, whether it’s on the defensive end or on the offensive end. It’s up to one of us to set the tone.”

If Notre Dame can get by an Oregon State team led by Raegan Beers and Talia von Oelhoffen, it could see South Carolina in the Elite Eight. That matchup would be a rematch of the season opener for both teams – a 100-71 win for the Gamecocks in Paris.

—Mitchell Northam, Field Level Media

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