After one quarter of play, IU women’s basketball found themselves in a 23-9 hole thanks to No. 12 Maryland’s intelligent defense.
The Terrapin press slowed down the typically fast-paced Hoosiers and disrupted any potential rhythm for their offense. They were able to convert six quick points off of IU turnovers in the first six minutes of the game.
When the second quarter began, Grace Berger created a much needed spark for the Hoosiers with her energy and offensive efficiency. She scored back-to-back buckets early in the frame, then hit two more of her patented mid-range jumpers a few minutes later to cut into the lead.
IU’s experience helped them battle back against Maryland, but they eventually fell short to the Terrapins 84-80 Monday night for their first conference loss.
Head coach Teri Moren said that the junior guard was “definitely the highlight” of the game after she allowed her team to stay in the game against one of, if not the best team in the Big Ten.
“It wouldn’t have been competitive if Grace Berger wouldn’t have been on our sideline tonight and out there on the floor with a red jersey on,” Moren said. “The game’s not even close if Grace doesn’t do what she did.”
On a night when no other Hoosier played to their full potential, Berger did her part and more. She finished with a game-high 26 points, seven assists and two steals. Despite her struggles in the first quarter, Berger was able to keep a clear mind for the remainder of the game.
“I’m a very confident player,” Berger said. “Even when my shot’s not falling, I always think the next one is going in.”
The Hoosiers need her to be extremely consistent now more than ever. Two guards, senior Jaelynn Penn and redshirt junior Nicole Cardaño-Hillary, left Monday’s game due to injury, and Moren said that despite it being a premature diagnosis, she doubts either will play in their next game.
Berger has the capability to be the number one scoring option for the Hoosiers this year. She is great at moving without the ball and finding open shots through Moren’s half-court offense. But when that stalls and the shot clock inches towards zero with the ball in her hands, she has proven herself as the go-to option by creating space away from the rim and hitting mid-range jumpers.
Her recent success is no surprise for anyone that has been paying attention. She was named one of 20 candidates on the Cheryl Miller Award preseason watch list, given to the nation’s top small forward, after averaging 13 points and five rebounds in her sophomore season.
In the preseason, Moren said she would take Berger and senior Ali Patberg against any other team’s guards in the nation.
Tonight, Patberg struggled against the Terrapins, only scoring nine points and turning it over three times. She never got into her rhythm until it was too late, but she was comfortable leaning on her backcourt counterpart to carry the load — a theme that Berger believes makes this Hoosier team so dangerous.
“Every night, a different person can be our leading scorer, can lead our lead in assists, can make plays,” Berger said.
She’s absolutely right. At times this year, it’s been Berger as the best player on the floor. Sometimes, it’s Patberg and other times, it’s sophomore forward Mackenzie Holmes. The ability for multiple players to be the number one option, mixed in with the team’s expectation to succeed no matter the score, and IU can compete against anybody in the nation.
“They’re not going to walk away quietly, and they’re always going to fight,” Moren said. “That’s why I love them so much.”
The Hoosiers have a chance to rebound from this defeat Thursday night as they face Penn State in State College, Pennsylvania.