After reaching heights that the program has never reached before, the IU women’s basketball team is ready to build off the momentum from its 2019-20 season.
The Hoosiers finished the season with a program-best 24-8 record and were projected to make the NCAA tournament before their season, along with all of the other NCAA teams, was cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
This year, the Hoosiers have expectations to reach those heights again.
The team will return four of the five starters from last year, none more important than senior guard Ali Patberg.
The Columbus, Indiana, native led the team with 15.6 points per game, while averaging 36 minutes last year. She racked up numerous awards including WBCA All-American Honorable Mention and All-Big Ten First Team.
For the Hoosiers to surpass the powerhouses of Maryland and Northwestern in the standings, Patberg must repeat her achievements last year and more. IU lost two leaders in Brenna Wise, to graduation, and Bendu Yeaney, who transferred to the University of Arizona, so the spotlight will be even brighter on Patberg.
Despite having high expectations set for the team, Patberg’s focus remains on what lies ahead in her final year in Bloomington.
“I have been thinking about this season since we couldn’t have the tournament last year,” Patberg said. “We’re going to take things one day at a time. That’s what we’ve been doing, dominating the day we have in front of us.”
Head coach Teri Moren has witnessed Patberg’s development since transferring from the University of Notre Dame in 2017. She said the senior guard’s combination of talent, leadership and work ethic sets her apart from her opponents.
“Ali Patberg is due to have a tremendous senior season,” Moren said. “You start with leadership but talk about a tireless, relentless passion for the game. She absolutely loves the game, loves to train and wants to be challenged every day.”
Patberg’s backcourt counterpart, junior Grace Berger, said she is most impressed with Patberg’s vision both in practices and in games. Combine that with her elite scoring ability, and Berger will take her teammate against anybody in the country.
“The passes that she makes I never see coming and she somehow always finds a person wide open,” Berger said. “I think she has an incredible ability to score the ball too, and she’s not just a passer. She’s the best point guard in the nation in my opinion.”
It may sound odd, but it’s Patberg’s unselfish play that needs to be adjusted this season. She averaged 5.6 assists per game last year, good for second most in the Big Ten, but elected to pass in situations when she could have scored herself. As the veteran on the team and now shouldering most of the offensive load, Patberg has to be more aggressive throughout the game.
“Ali has to be more selfish,” Moren said. “Sometimes, she likes to facilitate and get everyone involved in the offense, but she can get a bucket anytime she wants.”
In specific, Patberg cites in-game situations when she might be forced to show tough love toward teammates when IU struggles to execute.
“When things aren’t going well, I’ve been the one picking people up and telling them they’re good,” Patberg said. “Now, I’m at the point where they know I care about them, and I can push them a little harder.”
Moren said both the conference and non-conference schedules are still being arranged, but wherever the Hoosiers go this season, Patberg will be leading the way at the front.
“She’s one of the best players in the country,” Moren said. “There’s no question.”