On Sunday afternoon, for the 143rd time in her storied career, graduate guard Grace Berger will don a cream and crimson jersey and take the floor with an Indiana women’s basketball team she has come to represent over the last five years. However, the game — a noon tip-off against in-state rival Purdue with Big Ten title implications — will feature something neither Berger nor anyone else have seen before: a sold-out Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall crowd for a women’s basketball game.
Berger and graduate forward Alyssa Geary will be honored with senior day festivities before tip-off and a video after the game.
"It’s always special; senior night is a special day, for especially Grace Berger and Alyssa Geary,” head coach Teri Moren said Thursday. “And it's always bittersweet, you know?”
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Berger, a five-star prospect out of Louisville, Kentucky, in 2018, chose to attend Indiana and immediately made an impact, playing in every game her freshman year and starting four of them. The next year, Berger was tasked with helping replace the production left by the graduation of program legends Tyra Buss and Amanda Cahill as she moved into the starting lineup full time. Beginning with that sophomore season, Berger has started every game for the Hoosiers and been one of the team’s top two scorers every year while leading the Hoosiers to countless program firsts.
The season before Berger arrived, Indiana won the WNIT championship, at the time setting a new high mark for the program. Since she joined the team though, Indiana has reached the NCAA Tournament every year except for 2020, when it was cancelled due to COVID-19, including record-setting trips to the Sweet Sixteen last season and Elite Eight in 2021.
Against Purdue, Moren said she expects the team will bring an added intensity to the All-Big Ten player’s final regular season game in Bloomington.
“I don't think they want to let Grace Berger down,” Moren said. “So I think that there's a special incentive for us to play these games with the same kind of moxie, determination, seriousness, love that Grace Berger plays with.”
Individually, Berger has only lost to Purdue once, in her first matchup against the black and gold her freshman season. Since then, she and Indiana have won eight straight in the series, including a 69-46 win in West Lafayette earlier this season.
Along with Berger, Alyssa Geary will go through senior day honors. Geary joined the Indiana team this season after spending four years at Providence College, where she started 66 games and scored 854 points.
Although Geary began the season with a consistent role and was usually the first or second player off the bench every game, she missed a couple of games due to injury and saw her playing time gradually decrease upon returning. While she has continued to provide useful minutes throughout the season when on the court, Geary’s spot in the rotation as senior forward Mackenzie Holmes’ backup has largely been replaced by freshman forward Lilly Meister.
In addition to the rivalry matchup and senior day, Indiana will have the opportunity to clinch a share of the Big Ten regular season title against Purdue. The program’s only previous regular season title came in 1982-83, when the Hoosiers were co-champions with Ohio State in the inaugural season of Big Ten women’s basketball. That 1983 team will also be honored on Sunday in addition to senior day, with around 50 program alums from across the team’s history in attendance.
Assembly Hall is sold out for Sunday’s game. The home sell-out is the first ever in Indiana women’s basketball history and will mark the fourth time the program’s regular season attendance record has been broken in the last two months alone.
“The sell-out is really cool. We've gotten close, but we've been about 4,000 shy of getting this place completely packed, so I'm as eager to see this as our players are,” Moren said. “We're excited to see Hoosier nation show up for a women's game here in Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall — what we believe is the best venue in college athletics — to support us.”
In preparation for the record crowd, IU Athletics is clearing more parking around Assembly Hall ahead of the matchup — similar to men’s basketball games. Students will have a lower bowl student section in addition to the baseline section.
Although there are plenty of potential distractions surrounding the game Sunday and the rest of the season as a whole, Moren said she is confident in Berger’s teammates’ ability to step up for their leader.
“There's a seriousness about Grace that I think resonates in practice, in that locker room,” Moren said. “I also think that there's a fondness that they all have for her, and I think that they want to see her — and trust me when I tell you we have a lot of basketball ahead of us — but I think they want to see her finish this the right way.”
Follow reporters Will Foley (@foles24) and Matt Sebree (@mattsebree) and columnist Matt Press (@MattPress23) for updates throughout the Indiana women’s basketball season.