Ali Patberg is far from being ready for the college basketball season to be over. But when it is, she’ll be ready to get back to work.
The Notre Dame redshirt-freshman is anxious to work on her game to try to get it back to where it was when she left Columbus North as its all-time leading scorer.
“After the season, I’m going to work on my game,” Patberg said. “I haven’t done that in a year-and-a-half. Once we do our thing in the tournament, I’ll have a chance to focus on that. I have a lot of work to do, and I’m ready to do that work.”
The top-seeded Fighting Irish open NCAA Tournament play tonight at home against No. 16-seed Robert Morris. Notre Dame also will host a second-round game Sunday.
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If the Irish get through the first two rounds, they would play in the regional next weekend in Lexington, Kentucky. The women’s Final Four is March 31 and April 2 in Dallas.
But Patberg and the Irish are trying not to look that far ahead.
“Every practice is intense, and we’re just focused on Robert Morris right now,” Patberg said. “I think we’re definitely at our peak and are ready to go.”
The 2015 Indiana Miss Basketball and McDonald’s All-American tore the ACL in her right knee during a preseason practice shortly after arriving at Notre Dame and sat out the entire 2015-16 season. Last summer, she had a second surgery to remove bone spurs from the surgically repaired knee.
This season, Patberg has twice been sidelined for about a week. She had a case of pneumonia in December and caught the flu in January.
“I’m really pleased with Ali and her progress,” Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said. “She had a number of setbacks that really didn’t allow her to practice enough to be where she needed to be this year. Having missed so much time early, she just continues to study the game and improve. Her work ethic has been great.”
That hasn’t always translated into lots of playing time. She played only a few minutes a game early in the season while working her way back into basketball shape from the knee injury.
Patberg played career highs of 20 minutes and scored career highs of six points in back-to-back games in January, Atlantic Coast Conference wins at Boston College and North Carolina. But she now averages just 7.7 minutes a game and did not play in an 84-61 win against Duke in the ACC Tournament final.
“I’m competitive, and I want to play,” Patberg said. “But I understand when I don’t, and I’m ready to go at practice the next day. I’ll work hard and just get better. I’ll do whatever it takes. I know when I don’t get in, it’s OK. It’s a team game.”
Patberg’s father, Ron, an assistant coach at North, thinks Ali has gotten a lot better physically and is moving pretty freely. But he hasn’t seen the explosiveness return yet.
After scoring 2,026 points in her high school career, Ali Patberg has just 16 points in her 20 collegiate games. But as a point guard, she knows her role is that of a facilitator.
“I think when she’s gotten the opportunity to play, she hasn’t hurt herself,” Ron Patberg said. “She’s been in the right spots defensively. Offensively, she’s looking to get everybody else involved. That’s kind of her role.”
Despite the recent knee surgery, Patberg has drawn rave reviews for her defense. McGraw said defense surprisingly has been her biggest strength.
McGraw said Patberg has been one of the Irish’s best on-ball defenders.
“She plays good team defense,” McGraw said. “She can guard the ballhandler, which is something we lack as a team. There have been a number of situations where she has stepped in and played some big minutes for us. She’s going to be a great player down the road for us, and she’s put herself in good position.”
This season, Patberg has been a backup point guard to All-ACC player Lindsay Allen. With Allen graduating after this year, Patberg could be in line for a larger role next season.
Patberg said she has learned a great deal from watching and practicing against Allen.
“She’s always giving 100 percent mentally and physically,” Patberg said. “That’s what you have to do at point guard at this level. She’s always ready to go, no matter whether it’s a game, scrimmage, practice.”
That’s the same level of preparedness that Patberg hopes to have when she steps on the court.
Hoping her health issues are in the rearview mirror, she’s ready to help Notre Dame embark on a long tournament run.
“I’m feeling good,” Patberg said. “I’m just trying to get in the flow of things. I’m nowhere near where I should be, but I can bring things to the team that I need whenever my name is called. I’m ready to go mentally and physically.”
South Bend Sub-Regional
5 p.m.: Green Bay (27-5) vs. Purdue (22-12), ESPN2
7:30 p.m.: Notre Dame (30-3) vs. Robert Morris (22-10), ESPN2
TBA: Green Bay-Purdue winner vs. Notre Dame-Robert Morris winner, ESPN2