Indiana Daily Student

COLUMN: A midseason update on No. 16 IU women’s basketball in four quarters

<p>Then-sophomore guard Grace Berger plays offense Jan. 27, 2020, in Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall. Berger is the only player in the country with two triple-doubles recorded during the 2020-21 season. </p>

Then-sophomore guard Grace Berger plays offense Jan. 27, 2020, in Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall. Berger is the only player in the country with two triple-doubles recorded during the 2020-21 season.

For the third time this season, No. 16 IU women’s basketball’s schedule has been altered due to COVID-19.

A matchup against Butler University was canceled in December after the Bulldogs were forced to pause team activities, and this week’s games against Rutgers and Michigan State have been postponed.

IU is able to continue practicing because the coronavirus-related issues are from the opponents’ programs.

After the Butler cancellation, head coach Teri Moren said she instituted more fast-paced practices. She added competitive drills and scrimmaging to substitute the live-ball action the Hoosiers were missing.

“You try to keep their spirits up and their energy levels up with being in practice so much, and you just keep your fingers crossed,” Moren said.

With the delay in game coverage, take a look a deeper look at where the Hoosiers stand this season:

FIRST QUARTER: Grace Berger has been MVP thus far

The junior guard has been the team’s most important player this season. Berger is averaging 17 points and 7 assists per game in the Big Ten, while shooting a team-high 50% from deep. To make her case even better, she’s normally tasked with defending the opponent’s best guard and has succeeded more times than not with the assignment.

The stats help tell the story, but watching her in action seals it. In the 84-80 loss against Maryland, Berger was the reason the game came down to the wire. She continuously hit 15-footers on a day when everybody else was either missing or committing turnovers.

Coming into the season, there were expectations for her to be a top-three player for IU. She improved her skillset greatly last season, and the continued progress this year has the junior from Louisville as the midseason MVP.

[Related: Grace Berger became a leading voice for IU women’s basketball in the 2020 season]

SECOND QUARTER: But no Berger, no problem

Take the matchup against Penn State for example. Berger was held to 2 points in the first half, yet the Hoosiers won the game by 21. This time, it was sophomore forward Mackenzie Holmes and senior guard Ali Patberg. The two combined for 51 points on 20-25 shooting and dominated the Nittany Lions.

Excluding Berger, Holmes and Patberg were projected to be the go-to scoring options this season. Holmes has done a lot of her work in transition, where she excels at outrunning opposing bigs and converting layups. It fits in perfectly with the quick tempo Moren wants IU playing with.

As for Patberg, she remains the leader of the squad. Now in her sixth year of eligibility, she has the experience to be a second coach on the court. She has struggled offensively at times, but her  constant energy and encouragement guide the ship.

[Related: Ali Patberg finds offensive rhythm for IU women’s basketball in road win against Penn State]

Senior guard Jaelynn Penn, who is sidelined with an injury for now, junior forward Aleksa Gulbe and senior guard Nicole Cardaño-Hillary can also get hot from deep at any given moment.

THIRD QUARTER: Room for improvement in tight games

With all that has gone right for the Hoosiers, there are not many areas for major improvement. Sometimes their one-on-one defense slacked or they got cold from behind the arc, but the positives drown those deficiencies out.

However, IU has struggled with closing out games. Its three losses are all by single digits, while each victory has been 20 or more points. It’s surprising because the team is full of veterans – everyone that plays in crunch time has been in close-game situations before. For whatever reason, they have not gotten the job done this season.

In games against the University of Tennessee and Maryland, IU was sloppy in the first half and couldn’t get over the hump to come back and win. But against Kentucky, the team entered the fourth quarter with a 10-point lead. The Hoosiers then gave up 28 points and the Wildcats won by 4.

[Related: COLUMN: IU women’s basketball is most lethal when the scoring is spread out]

FOURTH QUARTER: A look ahead

Knock on wood, but IU returns to the floor Sunday to face a talented Northwestern team. It will be the Hoosiers first time playing a game in 10 days.

The game begins a tough stretch for the Hoosiers as the latter part of the season approaches. The majority of their opponents rank toward the top of the conference, including two dates with Iowa and one with undefeated Michigan.

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