Prior to facing Rutgers Sunday afternoon, graduate guard Grace Berger had played fairly well since coming back from injury, but it hadn’t been anything special. However, Berger returned to All-American form in No. 6 Indiana women’s basketball’s 91-68 win over the Scarlet Knights, a sign that the best is yet to come for the star guard and the Hoosier squad.
“There are some times where I’m not as bouncy as I used to be or have the burst quite yet, but every single game I feel like I’m getting better,” Berger said after the win. “So, I’d say that I’m pretty close to being back to my old self.”
Entering the game with a 9-13 record, the unsuspecting Scarlet Knights came out swinging on the top-ranked Hoosiers. The two teams traded punches early in the first period, going shot for shot until Rutgers closed the frame with a 6-0 run, capitalizing on two Indiana turnovers to put the Hoosiers in a rare 5-point deficit.
“For us this afternoon, coming off such an emotional night the other night with our win against Ohio State,” head coach Teri Moren said after the game. “The flow and the rhythm felt like we were playing a little uphill this afternoon.”
Rutgers scored first out of the quarter break to extend its lead to 24-17, but an 11-0 run quickly put the Hoosiers back on top, capped off by a Berger steal-and-score behind a roaring Assembly Hall crowd.
“The crowd keeps getting bigger and bigger,” junior guard Sydney Parrish said. “It’s kind of what’s keeping us going, it’s like the sixth person on the court with us.”
The fastbreak layup kickstarted a productive period for Berger, who soon after drilled a wide-open triple then converted a few mid-range jumpers, the last of which gave the Hoosiers a 9-point lead. Her 9-point, three-assist quarter led a 33-point frame for Indiana to give it a 50-42 halftime lead.
Rutgers continued to battle out of the half, but Berger poured on her scoring outburst in the third period. Rutgers freshman guard Kaylene Smikle hit a 3-pointer to start the frame and cut the deficit to five, but Berger responded with a three of her own, then her signature mid-range jumper to push Indiana’s lead to double digits.
The Scarlet Knights stayed in the contest, willing their way to keep the deficit under double digits, but Berger always had a response. She hit another jumper in the paint before nailing her third 3-pointer of the day on as many attempts, tying a career high for threes made in a game. By quarter’s end, the Hoosier star had 10 of the team’s 21 points in the third.
“Today, watching all of them, they looked great coming out of her hands,” Moren said about Berger’s career day from deep. “It’s something she’s certainly been focused on and working on.”
From a statistical standpoint, Berger’s day was mostly done, but her on-court presence created open opportunities for Indiana to pull away with the game. She connected with senior forward Mackenzie Holmes for a few buckets and the Hoosiers locked down defensively, holding the Scarlet Knights to 3-of-13 shooting in the final period.
“I think it’s just us challenging them. We felt like we were soft in the first half in terms of getting to loose balls and rebounding,” Moren said. “I thought we finally in the third, and certainly in the fourth, did some really good things.”
Freshman guard Lexus Bargesser swatted a Smikle jumper and took it all the way for two, the exclamation point for Indiana’s 23-point win. Although it took longer than expected, the Hoosiers improved to 20-1 and reclaimed sole possession of first place in the Big Ten.
Berger finished with a stat line of 21 points, seven assists and two rebounds and steals. Her points total marks a season high and her 9-of-11 shooting day — 81.8% — marks a career-high percentage on more than seven shooting attempts.
“Today, I thought, was Grace Berger day,” Moren said. “She looked for her shots, I thought she was aggressive, and we needed it because she had to carry us there for a little bit.”
"Grace Berger day" marked true, as she became the first Indiana basketball player, men’s or women’s, to record 1,600+ points, 600+ assists and 500+ rebounds in a career.
Holmes matched Berger’s 21 points along with six rebounds, Parrish added 17 points and six rebounds and freshman guard Yarden Garzon contributed 14 points and four rebounds, including another efficient game from deep, making 4-of-6 triples.
Indiana’s win marks the eighth-straight season with 20 or more wins. Next up for the Hoosiers is a road trip to Minneapolis to take on Minnesota on Wednesday night.
Follow reporters Will Foley (@foles24) and Matt Sebree (@mattsebree) and columnist Matt Press (@MattPress23) for updates throughout the Indiana women’s basketball season.