By Jacob Keith | @JacobKeith55
Sports Capital Journalism Program
INDIANAPOLIS – She looked up toward a scoreboard at Bankers Life Fieldhouse as the last few seconds ran out. Ali Patberg, the fifth-year junior guard for the Indiana Hoosiers, had led her team to the semifinals of the Big Ten Women’s Basketball Tournament for the first time since 2006 and just the fifth time in program history. Her lips were pressed tightly together as she walked the length of the handshake line following Maryland’s 66-51 victory.
Twice before during Indiana’s record-setting season, Patberg had been the focus of the Terrapin defense in a Maryland victory. But there had been a different feeling about this semifinal night, less than an hour up Interstate 65 from Patberg’s home in Columbus, Indiana. “When you have an opportunity to play a team a third time,” said Indiana coach Teri Moren, “you always feel like maybe this is our moment, our night.”
That was the hope. This was the reality.
“But you have to play almost perfect to beat them,” Moren said.
Maryland will play for a Big Ten championship for the sixth consecutive season. The Hoosiers will wait to learn their destination – possibly their home floor – for the first round of the NCAA tournament.
The box score says that Patberg’s 16 points exceeded her overall season average of 15.6 points and fell just short of the average of 17.2 in conference games. She surpassed the 1,000-point mark with a career total of 1,007. The numbers also reveal Maryland’s success. Patberg made just 28.6% of her shots – a 6-for-21 night – to equal her fourth-lowest percentage of the season. In the second half, when the top-seeded Terrapins turned a 28-24 advantage into as much as a 19-point lead, Patberg made just two of nine shots.
“We stayed with them for three quarters,” Patberg said. “We didn’t have a good third quarter and they did.”
Growing up in Indiana, every Hoosier dreams of playing, and winning, in Indiana. For Patberg, that dream was deferred until next year, a sixth year of eligibility awarded by the NCAA.
“We were playing hard and shots weren’t falling,” Patberg said. “I guess I was just frustrated.”
Soon after the game, the question was whether her frustration was emotional, physical, or a little of both.
The Hoosiers (24-8) were limited to 32.8% shooting and just 21.1% from beyond the 3-point line. Indiana committed 12 turnovers that led to 14 Maryland points. Maryland outscored Indiana in fast-break points, 15-0.
Through it all, Patberg continued to search for solutions. She was vocal as she encouraged her teammates. She was exasperated by officiating decisions.
“I don’t know her frustration was so much about us having a hard time scoring,” Moren said. “I think Ali was in a lot of pain. She got – first of all, she fell and hit her hip. Then she got kneed going to the basket. So that’s a kid that you play 38 minutes in a whole lot of pain tonight, and trying just to will her team.
“So I don’t know if her frustration was not being able to hit shots as much as ‘I’m in pain,’” Moren went on. “But, boy, she’s a tough nut, and I love her.
“And that’s the most special thing about Ali Patberg.”