IU women’s basketball is going to need to do what it did in the second half against Rutgers on Friday to have success in the rest of the postseason: Help junior guard Ali Patberg.
After scoring 20 points in the first half, Patberg was held to just eight in the second half. The rest of the team rallied around her and took the scoring burden to earn a 78-60 win. IU's 24th victory of the season, a program record, advanced it to the semifinals of the Big Ten Tournament.
Patberg put on an offensive clinic in the first two quarters. She entered the tunnel with 20 points on 6-8 shooting, including 2-4 from the 3-point line. While she looked out of character with just one assist, she grabbed six rebounds, showing her versatility on the court.
The rest of the Hoosiers looked a little shellshocked under the bright lights of Bankers Life Fieldhouse, scoring just 18 points on an abysmal 7-24 shooting.
Fortunately for IU, Rutgers faced the same problem. Junior guard Arella Guirantes had 17 first-half points, while the rest of the team had just 13 on 4-19 shooting. Had Rutgers made its shots, it could have pulled away and put IU on its heels.
IU can’t rely on teams to have an off night to win games, and it can’t win with just Patberg scoring. To advance in March, it will need every member of the team to show up and contribute.
And they Hoosiers did thatin the second half.
Rutgers opened the half with full-court pressure. It also put more pressure on Patberg, forcing her to give up the ball.
The pressure stifled Patberg, and she scored just two points in the third quarter. Despite her struggles, IU started to pull away thanks to the rest of the starters stepping up.
Sophomore guard Alexsa Gulbe scored IU's first five IU points in the third. She would go on to score 13 second-half points, including a pair of 3-point plays to put a bow on the win.
After Patberg made her only basket of the third quarter, four different Hoosiers scored the next four baskets. Spreading the wealth apparent all year, but it took half the game to get back to it.
“The one great thing about this team is that we have proven night in and night out that we are balanced, and we have other players that can step up, and I thought we got to see that today,” head coach Teri Moren said.
While the overall scoring picked up for IU, another place that improved was the hustle. Rutgers took a five-rebound advantage into the half, but IU came out crashing the glass. The Hoosiers grabbed 10 more rebounds than the Scarlet Knights in the second half. That led to IU doubling Rutgers in second-chance points.
In most areas of the game, you can improve with practice. One area you can’t practice is heart. You either have it or you don’t. Freshman guard Grace Waggoner has it.
Waggoner was crucial to IU pulling away in the second half. In the third quarter, she drew two charges. Despite her team being up big, she continued to put her body on the line to gain more possessions.
It speaks a lot to her character to go out and perform the way she did. For someone who didn’t play many meaningful minutes in the regular season, she came out in the biggest game of the year so far and did everything she could to help out her team. And it came from a freshman. You just can't teach that winning mentality.
One area you can teach is defense, and IU played great defense on the day.
The Hoosiers allowed Rutgers to shoot just 13.3% in the fourth on the way to just 30.2% for the game. IU also forced 14 turnovers, creating extra possession after extra possession. Those extra possessions allowed IU to pull away and close out the 18-point victory.
The Hoosiers are almost unbeatable when everyone on the floor is producing. But when you leave the work to Patberg, they become vulnerable. Now, it’s great for a team to have an X-factor like Patberg. She’s shown time and time again she can take over a game and score at will. It’s one of the reasons she’s a John R. Wooden Award candidate.
Everyone needs to show up if IU wants to continue winning games.
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