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Mackenzie Holmes spurs late rally that sends Indiana past Oklahoma 75-68 in March Madness

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (AP) — Approaching the end of her stellar playing career at Indiana, Mackenzie Holmes put together an appropriate finish to her final game at Assembly Hall.

In the waning minutes Monday night, Holmes demanded the ball. And the two-time All-American delivered.

She scored 29 points, including six straight during a crucial stretch late in the game, and No. 4 seed Indiana topped fifth-seeded Oklahoma 75-68 in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

Moments after the Hoosiers improved to 17-0 at home this season, Holmes ran into the stands to celebrate with the fans.

“I did that a couple years back when we beat Princeton to get to the Sweet 16,” she said, beaming with a smile. “This is my last game in Assembly Hall, I just really wanted to take it all in, so I asked coach (Teri Moren) if it was OK, and she gave me the go ahead. So we just went for it.”

Now, instead of bemoaning a surprising exit from March Madness, Holmes and her teammates advanced to a matchup with undefeated South Carolina in Albany, New York.

Even if Holmes' college career ends later this week, this send-off seemed like a fitting tribute for a player who overcame multiple knee injuries to help the Hoosiers emerge as a national power.

Sydney Parish added 17 points, eight rebounds and five assists for the Hoosiers (26-5), who are in the Sweet 16 for the second time in three years, erasing the bitter memories of last year's second-round exit to Miami.

That loss motivated Indiana all season.

“I didn’t want to end this game with a loss, I couldn’t let it happen again,” Holmes said after career win No. 123. “We all knew how it felt last year and I was going to do everything in my power not to let that happen again.

Big 12 Player of the Year Skylar Vann led the Sooners (23-10) with 20 points and eight rebounds. Aubrey Joens had 16 points for Oklahoma, which walked off the floor dejectedly following a fourth consecutive second-round loss in the NCAA Tournament.

“I don’t really think it’s the end of the story," Oklahoma coach Jennie Baranczyk said. "If this can really fuel this team (next season), then this might be one of those situations where it’s not never but maybe it’s more of a not yet.”

The Hoosiers can empathize with such a sentiment now that they have emerged from a nerve-racking tourney game.

More than 12,000 fans in Assembly Hall roared loudly in the closing minutes as the Hoosiers finally took control. When the final buzzer sounded, the music blared and fans and Indiana players pumped their arms in the air.

It was quite a postgame party.

For much of the night, though, it looked as if the Hoosiers might be staring at the sequel.

Again, they ran into a lower-seeded team that appeared athletic and more physical. This time, though, they fought back and surged ahead thanks to Holmes' post play.

The Hoosiers tied the score on Holmes' layup to open the fourth. She inadvertently hit Vann with an elbow in the nose on the play. From that point, it remained a one-possession game until Holmes' scoring flurry gave Indiana a 66-64 lead with 1:18 to go.

An Oklahoma turnover on the ensuing possession led to a 10-footer from Yarden Garzon, Holmes came up with a steal and the Hoosiers closed it out at the free-throw line.

“It's bothered us, it really has," Moren acknowledged, referring to the Miami game. “If that gave them some extra it very well could have. Selfishly, I wanted Mack and Sara (Scalia) and Arielle (Wisne) win their last game in The Hall. To be able to do it and go to a Sweet 16 makes it even sweeter.”

BIG PICTURE

Oklahoma: The Sooners have been to 22 NCAA Tournaments since the turn of the century but they have not been to a Sweet 16 since 2013.

Indiana: The Hoosiers spent all season trying to right the disappointment from that second-round exit in Grace Berger's career finale. It looked like it might happen again, but they dug deep late and pulled this one out — and now face a more daunting test later this week.

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AP March Madness bracket: https://apnews.com/hub/ncaa-womens-bracket/ and coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/march-madness