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New cast of Hoosiers leads Indiana to win in season opener

In its first taste of real basketball, the Indiana women’s basketball team showed that it won’t need to rely on the same cast of players on a nightly basis. In what was one of Ali Patberg’s poorer games as a Hoosier and a night that Jaelynn Penn was 0-for-2 from the field, the depth of this Indiana team shined. 

A 75-52 victory over Mount Saint Mary’s gives the Hoosiers a victory in their season opener and shows just how dangerous this team can be. But perhaps no one showed just how much they improved from last year than Grace Berger.

Grace Berger dropped 24 points in the season opener. (Ross Abdellah/HN)

Last year for Indiana, Berger served as a backup who seemed to defer to some of the more talented guards on the team throughout the season. Head coach Teri Moren said before the team’s exhibition game versus McKendree that Berger was ready to emerge as a real threat for Indiana this year.

Fourteen points and six steals versus McKendree showed fans that what Moren said about Berger could be true, but her game-high 24 points Thursday proved that Moren’s sentiment was real. Berger began the game a perfect 6-for-6 from the field and commanded the Indiana offense.

Berger said the year of experience gained last season was huge for her development. She said this year she hopes to be a more consistent presence for the team.

Berger also contributed seven rebounds to go along with four assists and four steals. Bringing an offensive spark and constant defensive intensity, Berger showed improvement shooting the ball as well, going 3-for-6 from 3-point range Thursday.

“[Berger] realized that in order for our team to get better, she had to get better in certain areas,” Moren said. “It was nice to see the fruits of her labor pay off. She had a great game.”

After a perfect start from the field, Berger missed her first four shots of the second half, but her confidence never wavered. When she is not hitting shots, Berger said she tries to produce in other ways like driving to the basket and distributing the ball to her teammates.

“I am going to come out and keep shooting regardless,” Berger said. “I know my teammates have that confidence in me, but if it’s not falling I was trying to do other things.”

Moren said she loves the confidence Berger exudes. She thinks Berger gets it from constant reassurance from her teammates that she can go make a play. Never taking bad shots and making the right decision to pull up for a mid-range jumper or drive to the basket are two qualities of Berger of which Moren is proud.

“Something good usually happens,” Moren said. “[Berger] certainly gives us another piece that we missed a year ago.”

With the depth and versatility this team presents, Moren has many options at the guard position. Chanel Wilson proved again Thursday to be a quick guard who can shoot from beyond the arc. Having Berger and Wilson gives the Hoosiers more options at point guard other than Preseason Wooden Award Top 30 finalist Ali Patberg.

In order for Berger to emerge even more to control the Indiana offense, she needs to be more vocal on the court, according to Moren. 

“Grace is by nature very quiet so in order to play that point spot you have to run your team and be very vocal and loud,” Moren said. “She is more than capable, but until we can get that voice to where it needs to be, making sure her teammates are where they need to be.”

In a game where Brenna Wise, Patberg and Penn combined for just 14 points, the team had to look to another young player for point production. On Thursday, that was Mackenzie Holmes, a freshman who was named the 2019 Maine Gatorade Player of the Year. Holmes contributed 15 points and grabbed seven rebounds. In her first taste of real basketball in Assembly Hall, Holmes was impressed.

“It is hard to understand the energy Assembly Hall brings when you are just watching it,” Holmes said. “But when you are on the court it is a whole different aspect.”

Holmes admitted to not doing a great job of calling for the ball against McKendree, but focused on that in practice, and it certainly payed off. Moren describes Holmes as a player with soft hands who has the ability to catch the ball in different situations. Moren said Holmes is more comfortable on the left block than the right, highlighting this as another point of development for the freshman.

“I think the best has still yet to come for her," Moren said.

Against McKendree, there were times where Holmes was exposed defensively on the block, but did a much better job of that Thursday, as evidenced by her zero fouls. Opposing center Rebecca Lee was also held to two points and one rebound.

Indiana’s next matchup will come on Nov. 10 in Bloomington versus Nicholls State. Moren hopes the team can build off this win and learn from some of the mistakes in the second half versus Mount Saint Mary’s.

Moren highlights ball security, ball movement and not getting too comfortable as focal points heading into the team’s matchup with Nicholls State. Moren thought there were points in the second half where her team was very careless with the ball, evidenced by 14 second-half turnovers.

“The difference between good teams and great teams is great teams don’t lack in any intensity from quarter to quarter or half to half,” Moren said. “That is where we have got to grow… If you want to be a great team, then you are going to play for a full 40 minutes.”

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