By now, anyone who follows women’s college basketball knows what happened in Las Vegas over the weekend.
The Las Vegas Invitational, held at the Mirage Hotel & Casino, made headlines for all the wrong reasons. Disappointing broadcasts, injuries and the incredibly disappointing – and misleading – venue overshadowed any team success.
The games were played in a ballroom at the hotel, with incredibly little seating for fans. The “scoreboard” was a television that not only looked like an elementary school setup, but was also unplugged multiple times, causing gameplay to be interrupted. Paramedics took 45 minutes to arrive after an Auburn player was injured.
Each game was only available on FloSports, a streaming service that costs $30, so most fans have to follow Twitter for updates. In short, the environment was more like a middle or high school tournament than one featuring the country’s No. 6 and other strong contenders.
It’s clear that women’s basketball needs to find other ways to continue promoting the game. Luckily, with teams like Indiana, there are opportunities. The Hoosiers took a 2-0 lead over the weekend and remain unbeaten with a 7-0 record for their second-best start in Teri Moren’s nine years as head coach. Indiana was ranked fifth in the latest Associated Press poll released Monday.
But it’s not easy to enjoy those victories when the overall game of women’s basketball is suffering.
“So we weren’t told what the venue would be like, what the setup would be like,” Moren said after the tournament ended. “We have an obligation to expand our game and we completely missed that opportunity.”
Luckily for the Hoosiers, the program offers many other ways to promote women’s basketball — starting with their game against UNC on Thursday. The Tar Heels will come to Bloomington with the same 6-0 record as the Hoosiers.
UNC prevailed at the NCAA tournament last season, reaching the regional semifinals before losing to eventual champion South Carolina. With Deja Kelly (17.8 ppg) and Alyssa Ustby (15.5 ppg) at the top and continuing their scoring chances from last season, the Tar Heels are likely to bring some challenges.
Here are a few things to look for in Indiana’s approach to the game:
Grace Berger’s injury leaves a big void
Indiana’s main guard and emcee on the field fell hard in the first minute of Friday night’s game against Auburn. When he fell from a rebound, it appeared as if a player had fallen on Berger’s knee. She left the game, unable to strain it, but went solo at halftime.
Moren said Berger should get an MRI Sunday night, and while Moren remains optimistic, the timeline for Berger’s return is still unknown.
While Indiana beat Auburn and Memphis, the graduate student’s absence was undoubtedly felt. Without Berger to lead the offense and get the plays on the pitch, the onus was and still is on the rest of the team to contribute just a little bit more.
Yarden Garzon continues to come into his own
Few newcomers, particularly to Moren’s program, start immediately upon reaching the court. Something special about Yarden Garzon led to her getting one of those five spots. Now it feels like we’re starting to see why on a more consistent basis.
Garzon averages 12.9 points per game. She’s hit double digits in Indiana’s last four games. Garzon leads the team in 3-point shooting and has scored on 18 of their 34 attempts.
Over the weekend, Garzon assumed the role of point guard with Berger on the touchline. There have been flashes of this ball-handling ability in previous games, which may be a regular occurrence until Berger returns. But no matter what role she plays, Garzon will play any other role, too.
Just a freshman, Garzon is already considered one of Indiana’s more versatile players. UNC will be a good test of their skills against a higher ranked team.
Mackenzie Holmes and Sara Scalia have started leading the offense
There was little doubt whether or not Mackenzie Holmes would be one of Indiana’s main players on offense. Averaging 20 points per game and showing no signs of slowing down, Indiana’s other leading leader is once again the “go-to” in the post.
At 6-foot-3, Holmes is surpassed by just one tar heel, 6-foot-4 Teonni Key, who has played just three total minutes this season. Overall, Indiana will have the height advantage that should prove fruitful for Holmes and others on both ends of the court.
But the Hoosiers don’t have to rely solely on their size under the basket, as Sara Scalia appears to be heating up from across the arc. Scalia was one of the Big Ten’s top 3-pointers last season and looks set to continue doing so with Indiana. After six games, she’s averaging 2.6 3-pointers per game.
Scalia is also one of the five Hoosiers averaging double digits at 13.3 points per game. If she can pull off three or more shots from deep, the whole team is better off and UNC has their hands full.
(Image credit: IU Athletics)