As the clock ran out on IU women’s basketball’s season, senior guard Ali Patberg wiped away tears as she walked off the court for potentially the last time in her college career.
IU’s magical run through the NCAA Tournament ended in the Elite Eight on Monday night at the Alamodome in San Antonio when it fell to University of Arizona 66-53.
“I would say we were at kind of a little bit of a loss for words,” sophomore forward Mackenzie Holmes said. “We just gotta learn from it and pick our heads up and keep moving forward.”
Both teams were held scoreless in the opening 3:05 of action before the offenses could get going. Former Hoosier and junior guard Bendu Yeaney was active defensively for the Wildcats early on, stuffing senior guard Nicole Cardaño-Hillary for a block and stripping junior forward Aleksa Gulbe for a steal in the game’s opening minutes.
IU and Arizona combined for 10 missed shots to start the game, then went back and forth trading baskets. The Hoosiers and Wildcats hit the next seven shots from the field to open up the scoring before settling back in defensively.
Arizona’s Aari McDonald, however, had no intentions of slowing down with the ball in her hands. The senior guard registered 17 points in the first half on 7-of-11 shooting, including 3-of-3 from behind the arc.
“She’s an elite player, and she stepped up big time,” Holmes said of McDonald. “She’s a tough player to guard, for sure, and we gave it our best shot, but she hit a lot of tough shots on us tonight.”
Cardaño-Hillary did what she could guarding the 2021 Pac-12 Player of the Year and ESPN second team All-American. As IU held onto its first and only lead of the game in the second quarter, McDonald stepped back and banked in a high-arching 3-pointer off the glass to re-tie the game at 17 a piece.
“She’s as fast as a player that we’ve faced all year,” head coach Teri Moren said of McDonald. “She’s the reason why they’re going to the Final Four.”
The Hoosiers stayed in the game down the stretch by getting to the free-throw line, where they shot 13-of-17, but the difference was their inability to knock down 3-pointers. Arizona shot 9-of-21 from behind the arc while IU failed to convert one all game, finishing 0-of-9.
Despite turning her ankle in the game’s closing minutes, McDonald helped the Wildcats outscore the Hoosiers 20-9 in the fourth quarter and ended with 33 points, 11 rebounds and four assists.
Moren said IU’s tournament run was a great experience but that this bitter season-ending loss will only serve as motivation for the future.
“We made a great run, and we wanna make this a regular thing for us,” Holmes said. “Having this type of night gives us a lot to learn about ourselves and what we can do next year to be better... Now that we got a taste of it, all of us are gonna be hungry for more, so I think it’s gonna pay off in the end for us.”