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'There’s a sense of urgency': Indiana women's basketball "desperate" for win in trip to face Michigan

Coming into the Big Ten season, the Hoosiers were arguably playing some of the best basketball in the conference.

They lost just one game in the non-conference slate and in a wide-open Big Ten, there was hope for Indiana to be in contention for, if not a Big Ten title, then at least a top four seed.

But after Monday’s loss at Michigan State, the Hoosiers enter Thursday’s road tilt at Michigan with a 6-7 record in the conference. That record is tied for eighth in the conference. While they have lost seven of their last 10 games, the Hoosiers are just two games back in the loss column to fourth place in the conference. That is vital because getting to fourth place could give them a double-bye.

However, if Indiana is going to start thinking about that double-bye again, getting back in the win column is a must. It can jump back into the conversation with a win over 7-6 Michigan Thursday in Ann Arbor.

“There’s a sense of urgency,” IU coach Teri Moren said. “We’re desperate to get back in the win column. We all know that we have underachieved here as far as the last few games. We’ve also had some adversity. And with adversity comes another person’s opportunity, like a Grace Berger, like a Keyanna (Warthen).”

There was a bit of an adjustment period in Monday’s game in East Lansing with the Hoosiers going a full game without their starting point guard, Ali Patberg. She made the trip and sat on the bench, but Indiana was not the same without her on the floor. Even with her missing Monday’s game, she still leads the team in total minutes (848) and points per game (15.4).

With Patberg sidelined, it shortened the rotation along and gave more responsibility to both sophomore Keyanna Warthen and freshman Grace Berger. Both played career high minutes Monday. But Moren said the prognosis on Patberg’s separated shoulder is positive and she is making progress towards a return that Moren thinks could be before the end of the regular season.

“She has high hopes to being back sooner than later,” Moren said. “We’ll just keep doing what we’re doing with her and she’s in good spirits. Probably in the training room four or five times a day. When she’s not in class, she’s in there with (athletic trainer) Robert (Black). They’re becoming really good friends.”

Thursday’s game at Michigan is a rematch of Indiana’s 70-60 home win on January 24. And since then, the Hoosiers have won just one game. But Thursday could be seen as Indiana’s most important game to date. For one, a win would level Indiana with Michigan in the Big Ten standings and would provide a big boost moving into the last four games of the regular season.

When looking past Michigan, the Hoosiers play three of their final four games at Assembly Hall. Two of those games are against ranked Iowa and Rutgers teams and the final two, at Northwestern and home vs. Purdue, are against teams Indiana has already lost to this season.

With not much separation in the middle of the standings, Indiana can no doubt make up some ground, but it will need a lot to go its way to get that elusive fourth seed. And even if the Hoosiers don’t get that fourth seed, a few more wins would help them solidify a berth in the NCAA Tournament field where they are projected as a 9-seed by ESPN bracketologist Charlie Creme.

Moren said a few weeks ago there is still plenty of basketball left to be played. That still may be the case, but time is running thin. And while a loss Thursday may not be devastating to Indiana’s tournament hopes, wins down the stretch will be hard to come by.

"Of course we got [Michigan] here, so you know what that means," Moren said. "Any time that you have doubles with teams in the Big Ten, I'm sure they are chomping at the bit to get another opportunity, but so are we. We're going into this game with the desperation of getting back in the win column."

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