The progression has been exactly what you’d want to see for a program on the rise.
NIT Championship, NCAA second round, and now, program records are falling. The Indiana women’s basketball team recorded a best ever 13th win in Big Ten play and tied the record for total wins in a season (23) with their regular season ending win over Michigan on Sunday.
After suffering through a three game losing streak in January, it didn’t look like the Hoosiers would reach those lofty measures this season. With just one senior on the roster, IU was still a year away many thought from maintaining their early season success which included handing No. 1 South Carolina their only loss of the season.
But head coach Teri Moren has her squad playing at a high level once again, riding a three game winning streak into the post season.
“We’re playing some of our best basketball right now,” Moren said. “We went on a little spell there where we were a little bit inconsistent, but as of late it seems like we’re playing better and you want to do that as you go into March.”
The recent run of success coincides with redshirt junior guard Ali Patberg playing her best basketball of the season. The 5-foot-11 Columbus, Ind. product was named first team All-Big Ten by the coaches and media this week, and she has averaged over 25 points per game in Indiana’s last three contests.
“One of the biggest things that’s happened is Ali Patberg has shown up the last three or four games. She’s just been tremendous,” Moren said.
Patberg does a little bit of everything for IU, adding 5.4 assists, 4.6 rebounds and 1.2 steals to her 15.2 points per game for the season.
More than just production on the court, Patberg is a vocal team leader along with Indiana’s lone senior, forward Brenna Wise.
When that duo is clicking, good things generally happen for the Hoosiers.
“This is a team that feeds off their leaders, Brenna and Ali,” Moren said. “So when Ali decides that she’s going to be aggressive and score the ball, I just think in a strange kind of way that just gives her surrounding cast so much confidence.”
With Patberg leading the charge, Indiana has four players that average more than ten points per game, and six that score more than eight.
As a team the Hoosiers have averaged 77.5 points per game over their last four contests, making a team that emphasizes defense first tough to contend with.
“We’re scoring the ball better, there’s not question about that,” Moren said.
As the No. 4 seed in the Big Ten Tournament, Indiana (23-7, 13-5) earned a double bye.
When the Hoosiers play their first game at the event at around 2:30 p.m. ET on Friday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, they will be coming off of nearly a week of rest.
Meanwhile Rutgers, their opponent on Friday, will have just played 24 hours earlier.
30 games into the season and with the postseason looming, Moren has been focused on keeping her team rested while staying engaged and focused.
“At this time of year you want your kids to have fresh minds and fresh legs,” Moren said. “We’ve tried to find the balance of giving them extra time off of their feet, but providing them with more film. The key to all that is how you keep your kids sharp.”
— Big Ten Women's Basketball (@B1Gwbball) March 6, 2020
HOOSIERS PLAYING FOR HOME COURT IN THE NCAA TOURNAMENT
Indiana is a lock to make the NCAA Tournament for a second consecutive season under Moren, but an impressive week at the Big Ten Tournament could yield more than just additional wins.
The top 16 teams in women’s basketball host the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament, and IU appears to be a team right on the edge of that conversation.
The NCAA women’s basketball committee revealed its current top 16 seeds on Monday, and the Hoosiers were left out despite a top bracketologist believing that IU was slighted.
Playing at home would obviously create a significant advantage for Indiana, and it was something on the mind of Wise during her senior night last week.
“Deep down inside I don’t believe that tonight is the last night I will play in Assembly Hall,” Wise said. “I am still holding on to that and working on that. If it is, I am forever grateful and will never forget this night, but it will continue to be the driver over the next 10 days.”
A win over Rutgers seems like the minimum that would be required to push the Hoosiers into the top 16. IU beat the Scarlet Knights in their lone meeting 66-56 in Piscataway, N.J. on Dec. 31.
Perhaps more likely, Indiana may need to defeat Maryland on Saturday to stay home the following week. The Terrapins are the No. 1 seed at the Big Ten Tournament and appear likely to hold that distinction for the NCAA Tournament as well.
But taking down the Terps would be no small task. Maryland swept Indiana this season, winning by an average margin of 12 points.
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