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The Indiana Daily Student

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Grace Berger returns as No. 6 Indiana women’s basketball defeats Northwestern

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Just 10 seconds into her return from an eight-game injury absence, Grace Berger had the ball and was running the offense for No. 6 Indiana women’s basketball as if she had never missed a game. 

Sporting a brace on her right knee, the graduate guard passed it off to junior guard Chloe Moore-McNeil, then got the ball back before firing a cross-court skip pass to junior guard Sydney Parrish for an open 3-point shot. Parrish was unable to convert the jumper but after just one possession, Berger showed why she was named to the All-Big Ten First Team each of the last three seasons. 

“It felt really great, almost like surreal just because it feels like it's been forever since I played a game,” Berger said after the game. “So I was definitely a little nervous — I think really anxious at first. But you know, truthfully, just really excited and I feel really fortunate that I have the chance to get back out there with a good bit of the season left.” 

Thanks in part to the return of Berger, Indiana defeated Northwestern 72-50 on Sunday afternoon in Evanston, Illinois. 

Related: [COLUMN: No. 6 Indiana women’s basketball was a well-oiled machine, and now it has Grace Berger

After being named to watch lists for the Naismith Trophy, Wooden Award, Wade Trophy and Cheryl Miller Award, as well as the preseason All-Big Ten team, Berger started the 2022-23 season proving she deserved the accolades. Through five full games, despite playing less than 30 minutes per game in the blowout wins, she was averaging 12 points, six rebounds and nearly six assists while serving as the Hoosiers’ primary ball handler. 

However — on Nov. 25 in Las Vegas — just over a minute into Indiana’s 96-81 win over Auburn University, Berger went down with a knee injury while going for a loose ball. Including the win over Auburn, Indiana went 8-1 without its star wing — suffering its only loss at Michigan State on Dec. 29. 

Related: [Indiana women’s basketball defeats Auburn in a hotel ballroom despite Grace Berger’s injury

Berger’s first contribution to the stat sheet came less than 90 seconds into the game when she again found an open Parrish beyond the arc — who this time drained the open look. On the ensuing defensive possession, Berger jumped an entry pass for the steal and found freshman guard Yarden Garzon in transition for another assist. 

“There's a lot of great players that can go score, but there's not a lot of players like Grace that can score and facilitate, put pressure on the defense and then sprint to the other end and want to guard the way she wants to guard,” head coach Teri Moren said. 

After another assist to Garzon, Berger was subbed out less than four minutes into the game. Despite the early substitution and finishing with 27 minutes of play — she averaged 35 minutes per game across the last three seasons — Moren said Berger is not on a minute restriction and they made rotation decisions on Sunday “by feel.” 

With just over three and a half minutes left in the first quarter, Berger returned and continued to make an impact. On the first offensive possession of her shift, Berger got the ball in the short corner, drove the baseline, pump faked and put up a layup for her first shot of the game — which she made. Two possessions later, Berger got the ball again and pulled up in transition for a signature mid-range jumper, which she also hit. 

After a quarter she had four points, three assists and a steal. By the time the final buzzer sounded, Berger had compiled 16 points on 5-12 shooting, five assists, a rebound, two steals and no turnovers in her return to action. 

“Having Grace back helps in all aspects of the game,” senior forward Mackenzie Holmes, who led the team with a 24-point, 13-rebound double-double, said. “Offensively, defensively, as a leader — we all know what Grace means to us as an all-around player. So it's just great to have her back and playing alongside her.” 

Moren said the primary ball-handling responsibilities will be split up between the guards after Berger served the role to start the season. Moore-McNeil, Yarden and freshman guard Lexus Bargesser handled point duties in her absence. 

Regardless of her role or the team’s rotation, Indiana women’s basketball is excited to have its leader back. 

“It was great to see her out there today," Moren said. "You know I got a little emotional watching her. I can only imagine what it's going to be like on Thursday night when she's introduced as a starter. We're certainly happy she's back.” 

Now 14-1 overall and 4-1 in Big Ten conference games, Indiana will return from its one-game road trip for a two-game weekend homestand, facing Maryland at 6:30 p.m. Thursday and Wisconsin at 2 p.m. Sunday. 

Follow reporters Will Foley (@foles24) and Matt Sebree (@mattsebree) and columnist Matt Press (@MattPress23) for updates throughout the Indiana women’s basketball season. 
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