Emotion has never been in short supply when it comes to Indiana guard Ali Patberg.
Typically, she is the emotional leader on the floor for IU, celebrating with, encouraging, and willing on her teammates.
But the emotions were different on Saturday after a 96-91 loss to Iowa. Patberg and three of her teammates were playing their final scheduled home game, and she was asked about going through senior day.
This time the emotions were too much. Patberg’s quivering voice struggled through a few words before one of those teammates recognized the need to step in.
Sitting next to her was four-year teammate Aleksa Gulbe. Patberg has 495 assists during her time at IU, including many to Gulbe, but in this moment the Latvian forward was there to give her struggling guard a lift.
“We know how Ali is, and how much she loves Indiana and playing here, being a Hoosier for such a long time,” Gulbe said while Patberg tried to compose herself in the Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall media room.
“You know we’re her family. Hoosier Nation is her family and you know being so close and familiar with the coaching staff of course it’s hard and I feel like you know it’s rough and you can see it in her face.”
Patberg’s face was still overcome with emotion, her voice still shaking.
There were so many variables contributing to the emotion of the moment. Senior day was one aspect, with more friends and family than normal hoping to see one last win in Bloomington for the nearby Columbus, Ind. native.
And then there was the game itself. Patberg came back for a seventh season of college basketball for moments like this — to win a league title, and exceed last year’s Elite Eight run.
Instead, the loss to Iowa knocked IU out of first place in the Big Ten by percentage points, and with several tough games remaining, it begins to put the notion of hosting NCAA Tournament games in question. That opportunity only goes to the No. 1 through 4 seeds in the tournament.
“From the beginning, we didn’t have energy, we didn’t have fight,” Patberg said of a game where IU trailed by as much as 24 points, struggling throughout until a furious fourth quarter rally that came too late.
A lack of energy and fight are non-negotiables for a competitor like Patberg. That and so much more broke her momentarily on the post-game stage.
But Gulbe’s intervention allowed Patberg a moment to steady herself, and regain a forward-looking focus. Indiana can still win the Big Ten, and every other preseason goal is still attainable.
The emotions were still raw, but the former Indiana Miss Basketball was ready to answer the question about playing her last game in Bloomington
“I love playing here, so it’s tough and to lose it’s even tougher. But you know we’re not done at all, so however many games I have left as a Hoosier, I’m going to give it my all,” Patberg said.
“I love IU, and I love my teammates and my coaches.”
Patberg and the currently No. 5 Hoosiers (19-5, 11-3) won’t have to dwell long on the loss to Iowa. They play them again on Monday evening in Iowa City (8 p.m., BTN).
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