Clinging to a 2-point lead after a 16-6 North Carolina State University run, head coach Teri Moren put IU’s season in sixth-year senior guard Ali Patberg’s hands.
With 11 seconds remaining, she received the inbounds pass and was immediately fouled. After her first free throw rimmed out, Patberg calmly nailed the second one to extend the Hoosiers’ lead to 3.
“When I missed the first one, I was like, ‘I’m going to hit the next one,’” Patberg said. “I had no doubt.”
Pesky defense by the Hoosiers generated chaos in North Carolina State’s final possession and forced an errant 3-point shot attempt that bounced off the backboard. After fending off the late surge by its opponent, No. 4 seed IU advanced to the Elite Eight by defeating No. 1 seed North Carolina State 73-70 Saturday night in San Antonio, Texas.
Only holding a 1-point advantage after 20 minutes, IU came out of halftime with a burst of energy prompted by Patberg.
After a rejection from sophomore forward Mackenzie Holmes initiated a fast break, Patberg attacked the basket and finished the tough and-1. Once she eyed the ball roll win, she flexed her muscles as junior forward Aleksa Gulbe sprinted over and tapped Patberg’s chest in excitement.
“[Patberg] wants to be in the moment,” head coach Teri Moren said.
Much like IU’s first two NCAA Tournament games, the Hoosiers grabbed the momentum in the third quarter. They started the half on a 19-6 run thanks to irritating defense opening up easy buckets on the other end.
Patberg impressed on the court with 17 points, five assists and only one turnover. Even while putting up stellar numbers, her leadership might have been most essential.
After a layup from freshman forward Kiandra Browne extended IU’s lead to 10 with under 3 minutes remaining, North Carolina State mounted a comeback. The momentum shifted toward the Wolfpack after they hit back-to-back 3-pointers to cut the lead to 4.
With leading scorer Holmes fouled out, Patberg motivated her teammates by keeping them in the moment. Inside the huddles, she expressed the need to get one stop at a time.
“None of this is possible without Ali Patberg and the leadership that she provides in the locker room every night,” Moren said.
Focusing its attention on defense has been IU’s MO all season. After setting a Big Ten record by only allowing 80 points through the first two rounds of an NCAA Tournament, the Hoosiers held the second-highest scoring team in the Atlantic Coast Conference to 7 points below its season average.
Per usual, senior guard Nicole Cardaño-Hillary led the charge defensively. She collected four of IU’s 10 steals by continuously nagging North Carolina State’s ball handlers for 94 feet. In total, the Hoosiers forced 17 turnovers.
“We wanted to keep them off guard the whole game, and that’s what we did,” Patberg said.
With Saturday’s win, the Hoosiers move on to the Elite Eight for the first time in program history.
Moren said she has always known there has been a spotlight on the IU men’s basketball program, but hopes that her players’ character mixed with on-court success makes the women’s program remembered down the road.
“We’ve continued to build our own tradition,” Moren said.
IU will face No. 3 seed University of Arizona and senior guard Bendu Yeaney, who transferred from IU after last season, Monday night. The Wildcats defeated No. 2 seed Texas A&M University 74-59 Saturday night to punch their ticket to the next round.
Although she was visibly overjoyed after the team’s victory, Patberg said she knows the Hoosiers have more to prove.
“We’re going to get to work on our next opponent because we have not reached our goal yet,” she said.