With the first quarter winding down in IU’s opener in the NCAA Tournament, Grace Berger once again created for herself.
An entry pass into the post was covered, so the junior guard dribbled once, pulled up from the mid-range and nailed the jumper to extend the lead to 16-9. It was her 11th point in 10 minutes.
Berger often found her most lethal area open since Virginia Commonwealth University’s defense was zoned in on eliminating post touches.
“The mid-range was open,” Berger said. “That’s my favorite shot. That’s my go-to shot.”
Berger willed IU to a 5 point halftime advantage by scoring 13 of the team’s 22 first half points in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament. Later on, more Hoosiers joined the party to break the game open in No. 4 IU’s 63-32 victory over No. 13 VCU on Monday afternoon in San Antonio.
After not competing for 11 days, the Hoosiers came out slow offensively. VCU built up a wall inside to limit IU’s leading scorer Mackenzie Holmes and tempted the Hoosiers – who are 12th in the Big Ten in 3-point percentage — to shoot from the outside. IU fell into the trap and missed 10 of its first 12 from behind the arc.
Berger was the only one that found a rhythm early on. Bothered by the poor offensive execution in their Big Ten Tournament exit, she was determined to start aggressively.
“Our goal, and my goal individually, was to come out and get going on offense early,” Berger said.
Head coach Teri Moren has repeatedly said how competitive Berger is. Whether IU is winning or losing, she is always focused on how she can individually improve.
“I always love Grace’s mindset,” Moren said. “She’s all business. I love it.”
So when VCU switched into the zone to start the second half, Berger adjusted accordingly. Instead of settling for mid-range jumpers that the new defense negated, she attacked the basket more frequently.
Berger caught the ball in the corner and drove baseline with just over two minutes gone in the third quarter. Anticipating contact, she shielded the ball, absorbed the foul and finished for a 3-point play.
All four teammates quickly ran over cheering to pick her up knowing that Berger’s play, including the recent bucket, had carried them to their lead.
“That’s a momentum-getter,” Moren said.
Momentum stayed in IU’s corner as they finished the game on a 36-12 run. That’s when the others inserted themselves offensively.
Senior guard Ali Patberg was more efficient after halftime, scoring 12 second-half points on 5-of-6 shooting. Holmes used her touch around the rim to dominate the paint — an area that VCU controlled in the first half. Overall, the second half allowed Berger’s teammates to gain needed confidence for tougher games in the tournament.
“You just anticipate with this group that we’ll get a little bit better in the third and much better in the fourth ,” Moren said.
During that stretch, Berger showcased other valuable aspects of her game. Instead of carrying the scoring load, she registered both of her assists and pulled down four of her eight rebounds in the second half.
While the offense flourished in the second half, the defense was stout for all 40 minutes. They limited VCU to a season-low 32 points, which is the least amount of points a Big Ten team has ever allowed in the NCAA Tournament.
The Hoosiers advance to the second round and will face No. 12 seed Belmont University on Wednesday after they upset No. 5 seed Gonzaga University. After securing IU’s largest margin of victory in over a month and its largest ever in an NCAA Tournament game, Moren is even more confident in her team moving forward.
“Our best basketball is going to be ahead of us,” Moren said.