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Indiana 78, Rutgers 60: Hoosiers' toughness exemplified as IU advances in Big Ten Tournament

INDIANAPOLIS — She didn’t take any shots, she didn’t grab any rebounds and she didn’t assist on any of Indiana’s 24 made field goals. But the toughness and gritty plays Grace Waggoner made represent the kind of player head coach Teri Moren wants in her program.

It was just another night for Ali Patberg in Indiana's win over Rutgers at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. (Ross Abdellah/HN)

With 4:19 left in the first quarter, Waggoner checked in the game and on the very next play, drew a charge on one of the best players in the Big Ten, Arella Guirantes. When Waggoner checked back into the game in the second quarter, it only took a minute and 23 seconds to draw yet another charge on Guirantes. 

“For her to come up big with those charges in the first half says a lot about the tough kid she is,” Moren said. “She is that Indiana kid that when her number is called she responds.”

While Waggoner can’t be credited with any important baskets or rebounds, the value she brings on the defensive end for the Hoosiers it hard to match. Waggoner’s impact on the defensive end helped Indiana take down Rutgers in the Big Ten Tournament quarterfinal 78-60. 

The Hoosiers were led by an incredible first half performance by Ali Patberg that set the tone for the aggressiveness with which Indiana would play for the rest of the game. Patberg scored 20 points and grabbed six rebounds in the first half alone.

For Aleksa Gulbe and her teammates, when Patberg gets in the kind of groove she did in the first half, the best thing to do is give her the ball and the rest takes care of itself.

“We know what she is capable of doing and when she is hot like that we just give her the ball and she does her job,” Gulbe said. “We were all confident in her and we believe in her that she is going to score and do all of the things that matter.”

Patberg dominated the first half and established an eight-point lead for Indiana heading into halftime. Moren said that when Patberg plays with an aggressive mindset it affects the entire team. 

“When Ali Patberg is aggressive the way she was this afternoon, the entire team gains a lot of confidence and because of that everybody else’s scoring steps up and feels confident,” Moren said. “We are going to need Ali to remain not just confident, but aggressive as we move forward to tomorrow.”

Rutgers came out in the second half with an increased focus on containing Patberg, making it even more important for the rest of the Hoosiers to feed off Patberg’s aggressive style of play. The Scarlet Knights pressed frequently throughout the second half and a tightly contested third quarter proved that the Hoosiers would need a complete team performance in the second half to take down Rutgers.

In the second half, it was the toughness of Gulbe down low and the outside shooting of Jaelynn Penn and Brenna Wise that made this win possible. Gulbe finished the game with 15 points, seven rebounds, one block and commanded the paint throughout the second half. 

Gulbe drew seven fouls and eventually fouled out Rutgers center Jordan Wallace, who did not score or have any rebounds. Wallace’s foul trouble forced her to play just over eight minutes Friday, which didn’t allow Rutgers to play its normal rotation. 

Patberg said she told Gulbe in the second half to attack the basket instead of shooting outside shots. Though Gulbe was 1-for-3 from beyond the arc, she did most of her damage through tough play inside. 

“[Gulbe] brought a lot of energy,” Patberg said. “She battled on every board even if she didn’t get it. I thought she was making plays with the ball… She was awesome, she was huge in the second half for us.”

Part of what helped Indiana close out Rutgers in the second half was getting the job done at the free-throw line. Indiana shot 24-for-27 from the charity stripe, and a big factor contributing to that efficiency was Gulbe’s 8-for-10 effort from the line. After a dominant first half, Patberg scored just eight points in the second half, but Gulbe stepped up in her place. 

“I thought Aleksa came in the second half and just did a tremendous job battling, not just scoring the ball,” Moren said. “I thought she did a tremendous job defensively, and we needed an x-factor today.”

With this win, Indiana faces No. 1 seed Maryland on Saturday at 6:30 p.m., a team the Hoosiers have lost to twice by double digits. The first matchup on Dec. 31 extended Indiana’s losing streak to three games in a 76-62 loss. A 79-69 home loss on Feb. 6 effectively put an end to Indiana’s Big Ten regular season title hopes. In these two games, Indiana combined to turn the ball over 32 times.

For Moren, defensive discipline will be key in Saturday's game. Because of Maryland’s elite depth, it will take strong team-oriented defense to beat the Terrapins. Kaila Charles was named to the First-Team All-Big Ten, but Maryland also had two players on the second team and three honorable mentions. 

While Indiana may seem outmatched on paper, Moren said she has a team that will refuse to back down from a challenge. Moren also said she thinks playing against the Rutgers press Friday will help prepare Indiana for Maryland’s press. 

“They are very balanced as well,” Moren said. “They have young ladies that come off the bench and provide scoring for them, so I think one it is staying disciplined against them like we did today. I do think I have a group in that locker room that really believes they can beat them.”

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