Indiana Daily Student

Ali Patberg leads Indiana women’s basketball in her final game as a Hoosier despite loss to UConn

<p>Senior guard Ali Patberg dribbles around a University of Connecticut defender Mar. 26, 2022, at Total Mortgage Arena in Bridgeport, CT. Indiana lost 75-58 against UConn.</p>

Senior guard Ali Patberg dribbles around a University of Connecticut defender Mar. 26, 2022, at Total Mortgage Arena in Bridgeport, CT. Indiana lost 75-58 against UConn.

As the final buzzer sounded, Ali Patberg sat on the end of the bench with her head in her hands, towel around her face, tears in her eyes. The player who has been synonymous with Indiana women’s basketball for the past half-decade had just checked out of a game for the final time in her college career.

Despite Patberg’s performance in the Sweet Sixteen game, Indiana lost 75-58 to the University of Connecticut on Saturday in Total Mortgage Arena in Bridgeport, Connecticut. The defeat eliminated Indiana from the NCAA Tournament and, as a result, ended its season.

As the Huskies celebrated, the Hoosiers’ seventh-year graduate student guard — playing an extra season thanks to the NCAA’s COVID-19 eligibility policy — walked off the floor one last time with her team. The Columbus, Indiana, native led the team in scoring with 16 points, but it wasn’t enough to get a win and advance to the Elite Eight for a second consecutive season.

Related: [COLUMN: Indiana women’s basketball lost to the best, but Teri Moren is just getting started]

“I just hope that the time I’ve had at IU, people just remember how hard I played and that I was a good teammate and worked as hard as I could,” Patberg said through tears. “I’m thankful, but it hurts right now.”

When Patberg arrived in Bloomington in 2017 as a transfer from the University of Notre Dame, consecutive Sweet Sixteen appearances were nothing more than a fantasy for Indiana. The program had just one NCAA Tournament appearance in the previous 15 years, and it had only ever made the Second Round once before.

In her first season on campus, Patberg had to sit out due to transfer rules at the time. While she was unable to suit up, she supported her teammates from the sideline as Indiana made its run to become the 2018 WNIT Champion.

Related: [Indiana women’s basketball’s “Big Dance” ends in 75-58 loss to UConn in Sweet Sixteen]

Now, in her final season, Patberg has gone from cheering on her teammates from the bench to cheering them on from the court. Even though she didn’t lead Indiana in scoring this season like she did in her first two seasons playing for the cream and crimson, Patberg is still the team’s emotional leader both on and off the court.

“I’m just thankful that Coach Moren believed in me five years ago and gave me an opportunity to wear ‘Hoosier’ on my chest,” Patberg said.

On Saturday, she was that leader for a final time, scoring the ball while being matched up against UConn sophomore point guard Paige Bueckers — last season’s Wooden Award winner — for much of the game. Patberg hit two of Indiana’s three 3-pointers on the day to help her lead the Hoosiers in scoring.

Her efforts were not enough for Indiana to pull out the win, but even as the clock wound down with a double-digit deficit, Patberg was still trying to motivate her teammates and kept playing all out — just as she has done all season, and just as she has done her whole career.

“I told Ali I’m not ready to have her not be my teammate anymore,” junior forward Mackenzie Holmes said while holding back tears. “Ali is going to be my sister for life as the other seniors will be, so I don’t think I’m going to let myself process this for a while.”

Ali Patberg has defined the recent era of Indiana women’s basketball, helping take the program from a middle-of-the-pack Big Ten team to a team capable of making a deep run in March. She leaves Indiana with a legacy as one of the greatest players to come through the program, but head coach Teri Moren did not rule out the possibility of a return to Bloomington for Patberg.

“Don’t be surprised if at some point she ends up back at Indiana working with women’s basketball, because she does have aspirations of wanting to coach this game,” Moren said. “I’d love to have her as a part of what we’re doing inside our program at some point in the future.”

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