By Laura Vázquez David | @lauravazquezpr
Sports Capital Journalism Program
INDIANAPOLIS – The fifth-seeded Indiana Hoosiers reached the championship game of the Big Ten Women’s Basketball Tournament for the first time in 20 years, defeating top-seeded Ohio State, 70-62, in a semifinal at Gainbridge Fieldhouse on Saturday.
Indiana (22-7) will face second-seeded Iowa at 4 p.m. Sunday afternoon. The Buckeyes (23-6) were attempting to become the seventh No. 1 seed to reach a Big Ten final in eight years. But for a second straight day, the Hoosiers took control of the game against a higher-seeded team with a recent history of success in the tournament. In the semifinal, Indiana held the lead for 38:43. The Buckeyes were never ahead.
The Hoosiers advanced with the depth that has marked their season. Indiana had five double-figure scorers. Graduate student Nicole Cardaño-Hillary scored 16 points with 11 rebounds and five assists, her first double-double of the year and sixth of her collegiate career. Cardano-Hillary matched her career high for rebounds set against Ohio State University on February 27, 2021.
“The fact that my teammates are all boxing out and I can run in and grab that rebound,” said Cardano-Hillary, a 5-foot-6 guard, “that’s what really helps me.”
Ali Patberg, the 5-foot-11 guard whose arrival in 2017 was an important part of Indiana’s rise, scored 15 points on 6-of-12 shooting, including 3-for-7 shooting from 3-point range. Mackenzie Holmes, a 6-3 forward, scored 12 points on 5-of-10 shooting. Chloe Moore-McNeil, a 5-11 sophomore, added 11 points. And 6-foot senior guard Grace Berger scored 10 with seven assists and six rebounds.
The balance has been an important part of Indiana’s success. Five Hoosiers have scored more than 1,000 points in their careers. Senior forward Aleksa Gulbe, who was limited by illness at the start of the game and scored six points, reached this milestone this past February 21, joining Holmes, Berger and Patberg. Cardaño-Hillary, who transferred from George Mason, also exceeded 1,000 points.
With today’s win Patberg has an all-time winning record of 88-34 and needs one more win to match former teammate Keyanna Warthen as the program’s all-time winningest player.
The Hoosiers outrebounded the Buckeyes, 37-30. “Statistics show when we out-rebound teams, we win,” said Indiana coach Teri Moren.
Indiana’s only Big Ten tournament championship came in 2002, a 75-72 victory over Penn State.
The semifinal victory brought Indiana one step closer to the possibility of hosting first and second-round NCAA tournament games at home in Bloomington, another way to expand the identity the Hoosiers have worked to create.
“The tradition has always been on the men’s side,” Moren said, “and we wanted to create our own tradition. I think we’re doing that.
“When people talk about Indiana basketball, we didn’t want to be exclusive just to men’s basketball,” she said. “We want people talking about the women’s basketball program as well. And that’s been the goal.”