Grace Berger, Mackenzie Holmes combine for 50 points in No. 2 Indiana’s win over No. 5 Iowa for Big Ten lead

But. 2 Indiana gave itself breathing room atop the conference with an 87-78 win against No. 5 Iowa at home on Thursday night in the first top-five matchup within the Big Ten in 30 years. It’s a contest with not only Big Ten implications, but national ones as the NCAA tournament ticks closer and the conference looks to pack the 68-team field.

The Hoosiers (23-1, 13-1 Big Ten) moved up to No. 2 in the Associated Press rankings on Monday for the highest ranking in program history. Their only loss is to Michigan State, although their upcoming schedule is brutal with No. 13 Ohio State and No. 12 Michigan waiting in the next seven days. They’re 7-0 against ranked opponents.

Iowa (19-5, 11-2) tripped up against Illinois in conference play and has played the toughest part of its Big Ten schedule. The Hawkeyes meet Maryland, a team they defeated by 14 last week, again in the penultimate game and then face Indiana again at home on Feb. 26 in a contest that could determine the regular season champion.

Indiana senior guard Grace Berger neared a triple-double with 26 points, nine rebounds and six assists. Senior forward Mackenzie Holmes scored 24 with six rebounds. They shot a combined 20-of-37 and teammates chipped in nine additional field goals.

The duo bested Iowa’s “law firm” of Monika Czinano and Caitlin Clark. Clark scored a game-best 35 points (12-of-28) with 10 assists and four rebounds. Czinano had a quiet night in the paint battling Holmes. She scored 6 points, a large drop-off from her average of 18 and broke a streak of 15 games in double figures, with seven rebounds.

More problematic for the Hawkeyes, she fouled out with under three minutes to play in a 7-point game. Freshman Hannah Stuelke scored 10 points, making all five field goals, in 21 minutes. McKenna Warnock had a 14-point, 11-rebound double-double.

How Indiana won

Indiana's Mackenzie Holmes goes up against Iowa defenders at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall in Bloomington, Indiana, on Feb.  9, 2023. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Indiana’s Mackenzie Holmes goes up against Iowa defenders at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall in Bloomington, Indiana, on Feb. 9, 2023. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Indiana went on an 11-2 scoring run over a three-minute span in the front end of the fourth that proved the difference. An and-1 by Clark cut the deficit back to 6, but was answered by Hoosiers guard Yarden Garzon, a freshman and member of the Israeli national team, hitting a 3-pointer. A free throw by Lilly Meister pushed the lead to 10 at 77-67, the largest of the game for either team until Indiana briefly went up by 11 in the final minute.

It was a nearly identical stat box with the exception of Iowa’s efficiency from 3-point range. The Hawkeyes were 6-of-23, a dip of 10% from the season-long average of 36.4% and down from their average of eight makes per game. Indiana made seven of their 14 attempts and committed fewer turnovers (18-12).

Neither Iowa nor Indiana led by more than 6 points through the first three quarters in a fast-paced back-and-forth battle of Big Ten powers. After a tie game at half, it was the Hoosiers who entered the final frame leading 62-57. Both teams rank top-five in efficiency and top-10 in points per game, led by Iowa’s Division I-best 88 points per game.

Iowa swept the three meetings in 2022 win the regular season and tournament titles. They won by 5 points in a mid-February meeting and by 6 points three days later. It was a 7-point margin in the Big Ten championship game.

Iowa, Indiana in line for deep NCAA tournament runs

Thursday’s game in front of a program-record 13,406 fans at Indiana’s Assembly Hall could serve as the conference decider as Indiana and Iowa pulled away from the stacked pack over the past few weeks.

Although Ohio State began the season undefeated, including its first eight Big Ten conference games, it lost its first game of the season to Iowa in late January. It’s been a struggle since, losing four of the last six and the Buckeyes (10-4 Big Ten) trail behind Maryland (10-3) for fourth place. Michigan is 9-4 and Illinois is 8-5 in a strong flip from its place at the bottom of the conference in 2022.

The last meeting of Big Ten teams both ranked in the top five of the AP poll were Iowa and Ohio State in 1993. They met in the Final Four and Ohio State advanced with a 73-72 overtime win. It remains Iowa’s only Final Four appearance. No Big Ten team has been to the Final Four since Maryland in 2015.

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