Indiana returns veteran backcourt for season with high expectations
With Ali Patberg and Grace Berger returning and the addition of Notre Dame transfer Danielle Patterson, sky is the limit for Hoosiers
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Photo Credit: IU Athletics
Indiana women’s basketball has quietly served as a model of consistency in the Big Ten and the NCAA over the past five years.
The Hoosiers have won at least 21 games every year since the 2015-16 season, just one after Head Coach Teri Moren was handed the reins to the program. They’ve reached the NCAA tournament twice — thrice when accounting for the cancelled 2019-20 event, for which they were projected as a four seed — and captured a WNIT championship in 2017.
For Ali Patberg, last year’s leading scorer and All-Big Ten First Team honoree, not competing in the tournament after winning 24 games — most in program history — and finishing fourth in the conference standings weighed on her mind. She’s thought about it ever since March and says it will motivate the team on its quest for a Big Ten title this year.
“We’re really, really, really excited,” said Patberg. “Just preparing physically, but mentally, just growing in all areas. We’re ready. You know, last year happened and I think we had a really good season and I want us to be able to show what we can do.”
There’s no reason to believe the Hoosiers can’t compete atop the league standings again this season, as Indiana returns nine players including Patberg and second-leading scorer Grace Berger. The duo, who comprised last season’s starting backcourt, combined for 28.7 points, 9.8 rebounds, and 8.7 assists per game.
“They're awfully good,” said Moren. “We know we have work to do, and the thing about all those guys is that they're super humble but they're super confident also. Ali Patberg is due to have a tremendous senior season … but Grace Berger is not too far behind. Those two young ladies have been fabulous.”
Besides the guard duo, an offseason acquisition may be exactly what the Hoosiers need to surpass other Big Ten contenders like Maryland and Northwestern. Danielle Patterson, a transfer from Notre Dame, originally came to Indiana in April of 2019 but had to sit out the 2019-20 season after undergoing knee surgery. After a full year of recovery, she’s set to see significant court action this year.
“I'm feeling really good. I've just been rehabbing it for a while now,” Patterson said. “I literally got back on the court a couple weeks ago, just full go. I got cleared on August 28 so I've just been going since then and it feels really, really good.”
Shortly after transferring, Patterson had cited lack of playing time and player development as primary reasons for leaving the Irish. She averaged 11.5 minutes, 2.9 points, and 1.7 rebounds per game spanning two seasons in South Bend.
Though she mostly played the small and power forward positions at Notre Dame, she feels she can slip into the half shooting guard, half small forward swing woman role similar to that held by Brenna Wise, who graduated after the 2019-20 season.
“I think things that I've talked about with our coaches is just bringing a versatility to the floor and also bringing a flow to the floor,” said Patterson. “I don't like to really put myself in a box in that way. I like to just kind of take what the defense is giving me in that sense. If I have an open look, do that, if I have to get to the basket, get to the basket, if I can make the extra pass, make my teammate better? Well, then that's great. Whatever it's going to take for us to win.”
Moren is eager to utilize the size of the 6’2 Patterson to complement that of Patberg, 5’11, and the 6’ Berger. Though Patterson didn’t shoot any threes at Notre Dame, Moren wants her to seek out opportunities from the perimeter to balance the floor and capitalize on her versatility.
“[Patterson]’s a bucket filler,” Moren said. “She can spread you out, shoots it at a high rate. Really has proven and shown in practice that she can shoot it with consistency most days... With Danny, Ali, and Grace, that's a big guard lineup.”
Patterson possesses size and builds similar to that of the 6’ Wise, last year’s leading rebounder. Patberg is eager for the newcomer to step in and fill the void.
“She's going to be a great addition to our team just because she is big, she can score, she can shoot the three, she can post up, she’s long, she’s athletic,” Patberg said. “She knows the game pretty well and also she played two years in college so she has some type of experience. So yeah, she's gonna be awesome for us.”
Patberg, also a Notre Dame transfer, already had ties to Patterson before the New York City native made the decision to switch schools. When Patterson embarked on her official visit to South Bend as a junior in high school, Patberg was her host.
Patterson says the two kept in touch ever since.
“[Patberg] was actually one of the first people that I heard from when I was looking to transfer from Notre Dame,” Patterson said. “I think the thing that really set her apart is she knew some of the same things that I was going through and she had already experienced it being at Notre Dame and I think that kind of just clicked. She was just really honest with me and she said, ‘I think you would really love Indiana, that's a great coaching staff, the coaches recruit great people who you want to be around constantly.’ All of that is proven to be true, so our relationship is really great.”
Besides the trio of prolific guards, Moren is happy to welcome back Jaelynn Penn, a senior guard who’s started every game of her Indiana career. Though Penn saw her production dip in 2019-20 — her scoring average fell from 13.9 to 10.6 points per game — she brings experience to a roster poised to use the experience to its advantage.
Penn will likely miss the start of the regular season after undergoing offseason surgery on her plantar fasciitis. Moren says she’s not “anywhere close” to returning to full speed drills, but will add depth to an already loaded tandem of lengthy guards when she returns.
The cancellation of the NCAA tournament undoubtedly stung the Hoosiers and, especially, Patberg. But with Berger by her side and Patterson in the mix, she’s hungrier than ever to make another postseason run and leave a lasting legacy at Indiana.
“We want to get in the tournament and we want to go really far,” Patberg said. “Coach has told us it’s one game at a time and focusing on that, but yeah, that's our end goal is to win a Big Ten championship and go from there.
“I think last year, it was hard because we had something taken away from us. And so it's one of those things like every game, we have to give our all, we have to leave it all out there.”