That’s the adjective IU women’s basketball head coach Teri Moren aptly used to describe her team after its Big Ten tournament quarterfinal win over Rutgers on Friday.
The Hoosiers beat the Scarlet Knights 78-60 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis in a hard-fought game between the tournament’s No. 4 and No. 5 seeds. The victory marks a program-record 24 wins this season.
“You know, this group, I can promise you, will not go away quietly,” Moren said “That's one of the intangible things that I love about them is that they're connected, but they're tough women.”
The score did not accurately reflect how close the game actually felt. IU had to fight through an aggressive Rutgers defense that never let IU extend its lead much beyond 10 points until the final few minutes of the game.
Junior guard Ali Patberg helped the Hoosiers get out to a fast start, scoring 14 of her 28 points on the night in the first quarter.
Patberg scored eight of IU’s first 12 points, and her 14 points in the first quarter made up the majority of the team’s 20 after the first period of play.
Her continued offensive aggression, dating back to the last four or five games, has been key for the Hoosiers offense. Especially on a night when her teammates combined for just 18 points in the first 20 minutes.
“I'm just going to do whatever it takes to win," Patberg said. “Like I said, they have been telling me to be aggressive, and I want to win, so that's what I do.”
Neither IU nor Rutgers had much luck getting its offenses started thanks to physical play on defense and 17 fouls between the two teams.
IU especially struggled getting the ball inside the paint, where they’ve been most effective this year. Freshman forward Mackenzie Holmes had three points on 1-2 shooting, while senior forward Brenna Wise and sophomore forward Aleksa Gulbe had just two points apiece.
That changed when Rutgers switched to a zone defense part way through the third quarter and held Patberg to just two points in the quarter.
“They have a lot of heart and a lot of toughness, and we knew they were going to come out with that energy,” Patberg said. “We just had to weather the storm. We stayed calm, just knowing that they were going to make runs at us, and we just had to stay solid.”
Junior guard Jaelynn Penn went down with what Moren called a significant ankle sprain midway through the quarter that left IU in search of another scoring option.
Gulbe stepped into the role of lead scorer seamlessly, scoring 13 points in 15 minutes in the second half, including a couple of 3-point plays that energized the crowd at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
“We needed an X-factor today,” Moren said. “We needed somebody else to step up, and I thought Lex, she did a tremendous job.”
IU’s toughness helped it weather the storm, and its reward is a 6:30 p.m. matchup with top-seeded Maryland tomorrow, who has beaten IU twice this season.
“I like our chances with this group, and we'll have to obviously play almost perfect,” Moren said “We realize that. But I do think that I have a group in that locker room that really believes that they can win.”
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