Gainbridge Fieldhouse is no Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall. But on Thursday afternoon from about 1:45 p.m. until 4:00, it sure sounded like it.
Three-pointers from graduate student guard Ali Patberg, layups from junior forward Mackenzie Holmes and steals from graduate student guard Nicole Cardaño-Hillary brought the fans in Indianapolis to their feet every time, propelling the Hoosiers to victory.
“All of our kids contributed today, all of them did something really great,” head coach Teri Moren said. “We know that we still have things to work on and get better as we move forward, but I thought overall we had some really good moments by every one of our kids.”
No. 5-seed Indiana women’s basketball beat No. 13-seed Rutgers 66-54 in the second round of the Big Ten Tournament, advancing to play No. 4-seed Maryland in the quarterfinals Friday afternoon.
Though Indiana held the lead for 37 minutes of the game, the first three quarters had the feeling of a back-and-forth game. Indiana struggled early and often against Rutgers’ interior defense, unable to rely on trademark points in the paint from players like Holmes and senior forward Aleksa Gulbe.
“Tournament play is always interesting,” Moren said. “It probably took us the whole first half just to really settle in and get some rhythm.”
The Hoosiers found their stride by the middle of the third quarter, taking advantage of the Scarlet Knights’ barrage of bricked shots to take a 48-37 lead heading into the fourth quarter.
“We left too many plays out there,” Rutgers head coach Timothy Eatman said. “We got good shots, we just didn’t finish.”
At the time, Indiana’s 11-point lead was its largest. Then, the fourth quarter happened.
Cardaño-Hillary entered the final quarter with 2 points and two steals. She finished the game with 9 points and five steals, putting up 7 points and three steals in the first five minutes of the fourth quarter. Cardaño-Hillary struggled in Indiana’s regular season finale against Maryland and scored just 3 points in the loss, but she found her rhythm once again Thursday.
“Nikki was terrific today on the ball,” Moren said. “She really ignited the beginning of our (offensive) motion and kept the ball moving.”
But while Cardaño-Hillary propelled the fourth quarter, Patberg controlled the game. She finished with a game-high 19 points and five 3-pointers, along with six rebounds and five assists. No other player on either team made more than one 3-pointer.
“I’m just trying to go out there and do what I need to do to help our team win,” Patberg said. “That’s all I’m focused on, and it felt great for our whole team to play well. I think we gained a lot of confidence tonight.”
Indiana took its largest lead of 16 points after Cardaño-Hillary knocked down her only 3-pointer with 5:52 remaining in the game. Indiana ran into a bit of trouble as the clock ran down, as Gulbe fouled out of the game, and Rutgers narrowed Indiana’s lead to 8 points.
“It was just another situation where we had to lean on our experience and being veterans,” Moren said. “(We had to) realize that we still had pieces like Grace Berger that aren’t afraid to go there when there’s a challenge. (But) Leks has to be better tomorrow.”
With the win, Indiana advances to play Maryland for the third time this season on Friday afternoon. Indiana lost to Maryland in its final game of the regular season, but that loss doesn’t concern Moren or the Hoosiers.
“I think it’s a great advantage for us, that we did just see them,” Moren said about the rematch. “I think it’s a great advantage that we’re on neutral floor. The other positive thing is we know we can beat them.”
Indiana beat Maryland 70-63 in overtime in January in Bloomington, boosted by its home crowd. While Gainbridge Fieldhouse isn’t Assembly Hall, Thursday’s game showed it could get close, and that could be the difference-maker for who reaches the Big Ten semifinals.
Indiana will tip off against Maryland at approximately 1:50 p.m. Friday on Big Ten Network.