Indiana sits squarely on the NCAA Tournament bubble. In the latest bracketology, IU is slotted as an 11-seed and in the “Last Four In” category. That means there is a lot at stake this week for the Hoosiers in the Big Ten Tournament.
Their matchup against Minnesota is a rematch of their tilt in Bloomington on February 6. The Gophers won round one 65-61 in the game Indiana guard Ali Patberg suffered a shoulder injury that forced her to miss most of the second half and the following three games.
If Indiana wants to make the NCAA Tournament, a win against Minnesota seems like a requirement. Here are some things to watch for in Thursday night’s matchup.
A healthy Ali Patberg
As mentioned earlier, Patberg left the third quarter of the first matchup between these two teams with a shoulder injury and would not return. While the team seemed to rally around this, making a huge fourth quarter comeback, the shot to win from Jaeylnn Penn didn’t fall and the Hoosiers ran out of time.
Having a healthy Patberg in round two should help Indiana turn the tides from the previous matchup.
“There’s a lot of different dynamics in that game,” Indiana Head Coach Teri Moren said. “Our kids are looking forward to another opportunity to play Minnesota with our full roster, a healthy Ali Patberg will certainly help.”
"As Ali goes, the rest of our group goes."
In the first matchup against Minnesota, Ali Patberg went down in the third quarter with a shoulder injury. The Hoosiers will have a healthy Patberg on Thursday, something Teri Moren believes is vital to the team's success. #iuwbb pic.twitter.com/OehKIpyYis
— The Hoosier Network (@TheHoosierNet) March 6, 2019
In her two quarters of play against Minnesota, Patberg finished with eight points on 3-of-5 shooting. She added five rebounds and three turnovers in her 24 minutes of play.
Since returning from her shoulder injury, Patberg is averaging 16.7 points per game and shooting 47.6 percent from the floor. She’s also shooting 9-of-16 in her last three games from beyond the arc.
“It’s real important to get Ali Patberg going,” Moren said. “It seems like as Ali goes, the rest of our group goes. That’s not pressure on Patberg, she knows this that the better she plays, the better we collectively as a team play.”
Limiting Minnesota’s guard play
Minnesota is led by its guard play, specifically from redshirt-senior Kenisha Bell and sophomore Destiny Pitts. Bell is averaging 18.9 points per game, while Pitts is averaging 15.7 points per game so far this season. No one else on Minnesota is averaging double figures.
Against the Hoosiers, Bell and Pitts combined for 39 points, 12 rebounds and 26 free throw attempts. Bell is averaging almost eight free throw attempts a game this season and she was selected to the All-Big Ten first team, while Pitts was selected to the second team.
“Bendu is probably our best person to try and slow her down. You’re not going to slow [Bell] down though,” Moren said. “You’re not going to keep her from scoring. You just try to make every shot that she takes difficult.”
"That's the only game we're worried about right now."
The Hoosiers are focused on avenging their 65-61 loss earlier this season against the Golden Gophers this Thursday in the Big Ten Tournament. #iuwbb pic.twitter.com/mm3a9XNdBa
— The Hoosier Network (@TheHoosierNet) March 6, 2019
About the free throw attempts, Moren acknowledged they have to do a better job of keeping them off the line. She also acknowledged that’s an important part of both Bell and Pitts’ games. In their latest win over Michigan State, the Gophers scored 31 of their 82 points from the free throw line.
“It’s a major key,” Moren said, “It’s self-discipline, it’s making sure that we move our feet, but also that we collectively guard the ball. As terrific as Bendu is on the ball, she’s going to need help.”
IU expects to throw a heavy dose of Yeaney and Patberg at the Gopher’s guards, but expect players like Grace Berger and Keyanna Warthen to be vital in a game where fouls could be a commonality.
Grace Berger and the bench’s impact
In the absence of Patberg, Grace Berger stepped up on several occasions. On Sunday, Berger was excellent in Indiana’s big win over Purdue.
Berger finished the game with 11 points, six rebounds and two steals. Most importantly, her spin move in the second quarter placed her on SportsCenter’s top plays. A confident Berger is significant for this team’s success.
“She certainly does give us another scorer when she has that mentality and we need another scorer off the bench for sure,” Moren said. “I think she has bought into that.”
— Indiana Women’s Basketball (@IndianaWBB) March 4, 2019
Berger’s impact wasn’t the only important factor off the bench for the Hoosiers on Sunday. The combination of Aleksa Gulbe, Linsey Marchese, Keyanna Warthen and Berger scored 20 points and grabbed 20 rebounds against Purdue. That production is important to help out the starters and give them periodic breathers.
“I had a conversation with the entire team about our need for production from our bench, period,” Moren said. “They responded in a big way. It’s the message to those four who come off the bench, to impact the game in some way.”
A few other tidbits
Moren stressed that the postseason, starting with the Big Ten Tournament, is a new season for the Hoosiers. She said the team was pleased with how they played on Sunday, but she’s seen a great performance before followed by a flat performance. This was evident last week when they knocked off No. 10 Iowa then were blown out at Northwestern. There’s a bit of cautious optimism coming from the team after their dominant win on Sunday.
In the Purdue game, Penn looked to have tweaked her ankle, something that has bothered her almost this entire season. Moren said this week “won’t be any different for her” since she’s played through this pain throughout the season.
Indiana and Minnesota will match up on Thursday evening at 6:30 on BTN. The winner will be right back on the court on Friday at the same time to take on the second-seeded Iowa Hawkeyes.