The Waiting Game / Patberg, Hoosiers await fate on NCAA Tournament bid

INDIANAPOLIS — Ali Patberg and the Indiana women’s basketball team have done all they could. Now, they have to play the waiting game.

And a long wait it will be — nine days until the selection committee announces this year’s NCAA Tournament field. The Hoosiers are a team on the proverbial bubble.

“I believe we’re a great team,” Patberg said. “We have great players at every position. We’re exciting to watch. We play hard. We play together. We’re extremely well coached. We controlled everything we can control to this point. I think the Big Ten is one of the best conferences in the country. I think we can give a team a run for their money.”

Patberg was speaking following 10th-seeded Indiana’s 70-61 loss to second-seeded Iowa in Friday night’s Big Ten Tournament quarterfinals at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. The Hoosiers (20-12) led the 10th-ranked Hawkeyes by a point with just under 5 minutes remaining, but Iowa (24-6) rallied for the win.

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After scoring 20 points in Thursday’s win against Minnesota, Patberg played one of her best games of the season. She led Indiana with 25 points and added three rebounds, two assists, a blocked shot and zero turnovers in 38 minutes of action.

“She’s very special,” Indiana coach Teri Moren said. “Obviously, she’s new to the Big Ten, and a lot of the fans in the Big Ten haven’t had the opportunity to watch her. But everybody walks away appreciating how she plays the game, how she carries herself, how she handles herself. Her ability to score, her ability to facilitate, the energy that she plays with, this is a kid that is very passionate about the game. I thought Ali was very, very good the last two days, but none of us are surprised by it.”

Patberg went 8 for 16 from the floor, including 3 for 4 from 3-point range, and 6 for 6 from the free-throw line on Friday.

Although it wasn’t her goal, Patberg nearly matched Iowa star Megan Gustafson point for point. Gustafson, the consensus Big Ten Player of the Year and a leading candidate for national Player of the Year, led the Hawkeyes with 30 points and 17 rebounds.

“She’s a really good player,” Gustafson said of Patberg. “She can create, whether it’s shooting from 3 or penetrating and making some really tough shots. It’s a credit to her and her teammates for really setting her up.”

Patberg also showed she can play a little defense. Thursday, Moren credited her for helping show down Minnesota’s top player. Friday, she was instrumental in limiting first-team All-Big Ten player Kathleen Doyle to five points.

“I’m just trying to win, so I’m going to do whatever it takes for us to win,” Patberg said.

Earlier this week, Patberg was named to the All-Big Ten second team. That came despite missing three games near the end of the season after separating a shoulder in a loss to Minnesota.

The Hoosiers lost that game to the Golden Gophers, then lost all three games Patberg missed.

“It was tough,” Patberg said. “I love the game. I love my teammates. I wanted to be out there with them. But they played well without me. I just did everything I could to be a good teammate when I wasn’t playing, and when I got the opportunity to play again, I was going to make the most of it. You never know when it’s going to be taken away from you, so you can’t take it for granted. Everything happens for a reason.”

The game Patberg returned from the injury, Indiana upset Iowa 75-73.

“You take Patberg out of the lineup, and they’re a different team,” Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said. “But now she’s back, and she’s healthy. She’s just so good. We tried to take the ball out of her hands because when she gets it, she’s so crafty. She’s able to create and not only shoot 3s, but she’s great off the bounce, and then she has a little floater. That’s really hard to defend, so she’s a really good player.”

Depending on which bracket guru you ask, the Hoosiers either are a bubble team or have done enough to earn themselves an NCAA bid. If they don’t make the NCAA, they certainly would have a chance to defend their NIT championship.

But as Moren believes, Indiana is an NCAA Tournament team.

“It’s not just our Big Ten schedule,” Moren said. “Our non-conference schedule is extremely difficult, and I think that’s one of the the things that the committee wants you to do. They want you to go out and play people, and they want you to beat people, and we’ve proven we that can beat people, whether it’s at home or whether it’s on the road.”