INDIANAPOLIS — It’s hard to beat any team three times in a season. But to blow out what could be considered the best Indiana women’s basketball team in program history three times in one season is unprecedented. That’s exactly what Maryland did to Indiana on Saturday in the Big Ten Tournament semifinal, defeating the Hoosiers 66-51.
“When you have an opportunity to play a team a third time, you always feel like maybe this is our moment, our night, but you have to play almost perfect to beat them,” head coach Teri Moren said. “But I thought we battled. I’m really proud of our guys and just how hard they played. I thought we tested them defensively for sure.”
Ali Patberg stayed aggressive after a dominant 28-point performance in Indiana’s win over Rutgers on March 6, but it wasn’t enough to keep the Hoosiers in the game in the second half. Patberg finished with 16 points and three assists, but was only 6-for-21 from the field.
Maryland head coach Brenda Frese said she thought the key to guarding Patberg and Grace Berger was keeping the press on for most of the game. She said throwing as many defenders as possible at IU’s guards helped limit their production.
Indiana trailed by just four points heading into halftime, but its offense often felt stagnant and forced in the second half. The Hoosiers handled Maryland’s press well in the first half, but the constant pressure kept Indiana out of rhythm for the remainder of the game.
It looked at first like it would be another big day for Indiana offensively after making its first four field goals of the game, but things quickly took a turn for the worse in the second half. The Hoosiers shot 2-for-11 in the third quarter and struggled to find a consistent second scoring option.
Mackenzie Holmes quietly had an impressive second half with eight points and three rebounds, but wasn’t much of a factor in the first half. Because of this, the hole Indiana dug itself in the first 15 minutes of the second half made a comeback unrealistic.
An Ashley Owusu offensive foul — followed by a Brenna Wise three with six minutes left in the fourth quarter — gave Indiana a sense of life in the second half. However, the Hoosiers would never cut the deficit below 11 points after this basket for the rest of the contest.
“Obviously we knew going into this game, Patberg was really hot,” Frese said. “We really wanted to make her have to work for everything. I thought our zone kind of changed the game. I thought it gave them more defenders to have to look at, and I thought that was probably the difference.”
Three-point shooting and turnovers have been consistent areas in which Indiana has struggled this year, and proved to be killer versus Maryland. On Saturday, Indiana was 4-for-19 from beyond the arc and 12 Indiana turnovers did not help its comeback effort, either.
Maryland’s balanced attack was on full display, with five Terrapins scoring nine or more points. Moren said Ashley Owusu was particularly difficult to guard today because of her ability to drive to the basket. The Big Ten Freshman of The Year finished with 15 points, five rebounds and three assists.
Part of Owusu’s effectiveness came in transition, helping Maryland outscore Indiana 15-0 in fast break points. Moren said one of Indiana’s goals going into the game was to treat every made basket like a missed basket in order to emphasize getting back on defense.
“Owusu is like a freight train coming down the floor,” Moren said. “They are great at getting the ball inbounded quickly and getting up the sideline before some of our guys got turned around.”
While Indiana couldn’t get it done versus Maryland in the semifinal of the Big Ten Tournament, the Hoosiers now get some much needed rest before the NCAA Tournament. Selection Monday for the women’s NCAA tournament is scheduled for 7 p.m. ET on March 16.
With the third loss to Maryland, Indiana will likely stay on the five-seed line, meaning IU will narrowly miss out on the chance to host potentially two NCAA tournament games. The difference between the four and five seed is huge, but Indiana was 10-2 on the road this season and 3-2 in neutral site games.
“I think that’s a different element, when you are away from Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall, just the toughness you have to have, the focus you have to have,” Moren said. “And I think when you look at what we have done away from the Hall, it’s pretty impressive.”
The Hoosiers finished the season winning their last three regular season games and one game in the Big Ten Tournament. Perhaps more important is Indiana’s ability to rest and get healthy before the NCAA tournament, as IU has a chance to make its first Sweet 16 in program history. Moren thinks the fact that the Big Ten had so many talented teams will help prepare the Hoosiers for the tournament.
“There is no bottom of the barrel in the Big Ten,” she said. “If you are not ready to play every single night, whether you are at home or away, I think we have proven in this league that anybody can win. The parity has been incredible, especially this season.”
There’s no doubt that Teri Moren is proud of her team’s toughness this weekend in Indianapolis, and hopes that attitude can lead to an NCAA Tournament run. Patberg got banged up multiple times in this game, but her drive to win represents Indiana’s mindset heading into the tournament.
“We know this — we still have more basketball ahead of us, and that’s something we are going to look forward to,” Moren said. “I know that tonight we will be disappointed and they’re going to get a couple days off and then we’ll be back to work on Wednesday.”