“There’s not a better low post player in the country than Mackenzie Holmes,” says Indiana University women’s basketball Coach Teri Moren. “She can score in a variety of ways but her toughness and selflessness helped set her apart even more.” AP Photo/Julio Cortez

Mackenzie Holmes sat on the bench, her left knee immobilized after a minor surgery on Jan. 20, for eight games, unable to play for the Indiana University women’s basketball team.

It was hard at first, but then she thought to herself, “We’re trying to compete for a Big Ten championship and a national championship. What can I do to contribute?”

So Holmes, the former Gorham High star who is now a star junior forward for the Hoosiers, became the loudest cheerleader on the bench and a mentor to the younger girls on the team. She returned to the lineup on Feb. 17 and is just now rounding into playing shape.

And just in time for the Hoosiers, who are looking to make another deep run in the NCAA women’s basketball tournament. A year ago, Indiana made it to the Elite Eight, losing to Arizona 66-53.

This year?

“Our goal is to go higher,” said Holmes, who earned second-team all-Big Ten honors this season despite missing time. “You always want to beat what you did the previous year.”


Indiana (22-8) earned a No. 3 seed – its highest seeding ever for the NCAA tournament – and opens play at 1:30 p.m. Saturday against Charlotte (22-9) at home. Should it advance, Indiana also will host a second-round game at Assembly Hall.

“It’s a huge advantage in a lot of ways,” Holmes said of playing at home. “Not having to travel for one, you how hard road games are in general. And our fan base is special, crazy about basketball. It’s a great atmosphere all around. This is going to be a very special experience for everybody who’s coming, no matter where they’re from.”

The 6-foot-3 Holmes, who helped Gorham win two Class AA state championships and a third regional title, was leading Indiana in scoring (17.9 points per game) and rebounding (8.2) with a team-high 26 blocked shots when she injured her left knee in a practice in early January. According to the school, she had a “procedure” done on her knee on Jan. 20.

She pushed herself to return as soon as possible, often continuing her work when she returned home. She said sitting on the bench gave her “a different perspective.”

“I don’t think I had ever taken a month off from basketball in my life,” she said.

Her return came on Feb. 17, a home game against Northwestern. She received a loud ovation when her name was announced. She played just 24 minutes and scored six points with six rebounds.


She has played eight games since returning and is now averaging 15.5 points (second on the team to Grace Berger’s 16.3) and with a team-high 7.0 rebounds per game. She also has a team-high 36 blocked shots. She has scored in double figures in each of the last six games with her playing time slowly increasing.

Holmes, a human development and family studies major, said she “started to feel like herself” during the Big Ten tournament, in which Indiana came in as the fifth seed but advanced to the title game. She felt she was able to move around better and get back into the rhythm of the game.

“Those few games helped me get back in the flow of things,” said Holmes. “Given the circumstances, I’m pleased with how I’m feeling. Just knowing that this is the last stretch of this race we’ve been running is all the motivation I need. It’s lose or go home now.”

Indiana junior forward Mackenzie Holmes is averaging 15.5 points and a team-high 7.0 rebounds this season. AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall

Head Coach Teri Moren is glad to have Holmes back.

“Mackenzie has worked really hard to come back from her knee surgery,” Moren said in an email. “She continues to do the extra work to get herself back to playing her best basketball. Having her back to 100 percent makes us very difficult to defend.

“There’s not a better low post player in the country than Mackenzie Holmes. She can score in a variety of ways but her toughness and selflessness helped set her apart even more.”


Other people have noticed. Holmes was on the John Wooden watch list not only at midseason, but also the late season list even though she missed the eight games. That list recognizes the top 25 players in the nation.

This will be Holmes’ second appearance in the NCAA tournament. The event was canceled because of the coronavirus in 2020, her freshman year.

“Having  that experience last year was super beneficial going into this season,” she said. “We learned every second, every minute, matters in this tournament. It’s do or die. That’s everyone’s mentality. Everyone is playing for the same goal, to get to the next round.

“So you have to play with a level of desperation, but also a level of maturity. You’re going to have nerves. You have to try to control those nerves. … That’s easier said then done. You have to keep yourself focused on other things. For me, it’s saying a prayer, or doing a devotion, before a game. Some people listen to music. Whatever works best. You just have to tune into the moment.”

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