By Joe Tykane
Sports Capital Journalism Program
INDIANAPOLIS – Indiana reached the 20-victory mark for a seventh consecutive season, a program record, with a 66-54 victory over Rutgers in the second round of the Big Ten Women’s Basketball Tournament Thursday at Gainbridge Fieldhouse.
Graduate student Ali Patberg scored 19 points, including five 3-point shots to tie a school record in the conference tournament.
The Hoosiers (20-7) advanced to a quarterfinal for a fifth straight season. Indiana will face fourth-seeded Maryland, which has set a standard of excellence since joining the Big Ten in the 2015 season. The two-time defending-champion Terrapins have won five conference tournaments and have reached the last seven title games.
In the most recent NCAA seeding reveal, Indiana was No. 15 and Maryland was No. 12. The team split two games this season. Indiana won 70-63 in overtime at home on January 2 to end an 11-game losing streak to the Terrapins, and lost 67-64 at Maryland on February 25. Maryland was never seeded lower than second in its previous seven Big Ten seasons.
Rutgers (11-20), the 13th seed, defeated Penn State to reach the second round. The Scarlet Knights were led by Osh Brown and Sayawni Lassiter, who scored 12 points. Rutgers outrebounded Indiana, 35-30, and outscored the Hoosiers, 17-2, on second-chance points. But Indiana led for 37:46.
Patberg, the 2015 MaxPreps National High School Player of the Year at Columbus North High School, is completing her seventh season of college basketball. Her freshman season at Notre Dame was ended with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in her right knee suffered during a preseason practice. She did not play during her redshirt sophomore year after transferring to Indiana. This season was made possible by eligibility rules resulting from the pandemic.
Patberg made six of 10 shots, five of seven from behind the 3-point line, with six assists and five rebounds. Senior guard Grace Berger, an All-Big Ten first-team guard, scored 17 points with six assists and six rebounds. Berger disrupted things for Rutgers on defense as well, jumping passing lanes and coming away with a pair of steals.
Indiana’s democratic offensive approach was enough to stave off Rutgers in the first half, ending the second quarter with a six-point lead, 32-26. The Hoosiers were able to get offensive contributions from all their starters. Patberg, an All-Big Ten honorable mention guard, led the way with three 3-pointers on four attempts and dishing out three assists. Patberg continued to do it all into the second half, draining shots from deep, whipping no-look and live-dribble passes all over the court, and crashing the glass.
Nicole Cardaño-Hillary, another All-Big Ten Honorable Mention guard, served as a thorn in the side of the Scarlet Knights, disrupting their offense and coming away with five steals. In the post-game press conference Indiana coach Teri Moren gushed about her defense, saying, “Nicki was terrific today on the ball. Obviously she’s a problem, as I always say, disruptive on the ball, defender, and I thought she was great.”
Shug Dickson helped keep Rutgers afloat in the first half, scoring eight points on a diet of tough midrange jumpers, but had to leave the game due to an ankle injury early in the second half. Dickson was instrumental in Rutgers’ victory over Penn State, scoring 14 points with seven rebounds and nine assists. Without Dickson manufacturing offense and putting pressure on Indiana, Rutgers’ offense sputtered, and the Knights failed to keep pace with Indiana in the second half. Brown’s 12 points, with 10 rebounds, could not provide enough to buoy Rutgers. “It’s not how I wanted to end my season overall,” Brown said, “but I’m glad that I got the opportunity to play with my teammates.”
Indiana will go on to face the Terrapins, winners of nine of their last 10 games.
“We feel like we have a great opportunity ahead of us at 2 o’clock tomorrow,” Moren said.