In order to be the best at something, you can’t ever be satisfied with where you are. Indiana women’s basketball is trying to be the best in the Big Ten and nationally, and in order to do that, they can’t be satisfied with where they are.
In 2019, Indiana had arguably its best season in program history. The Hoosiers were in line for a top-four or five seed in the NCAA Tournament, they were ranked for almost the entirety of the season and knocked off then-No. 5 South Carolina. Now, they return almost every key player from last season's team and have even higher expectations for 2020-21 and beyond.
Last season, Indiana ranked top-40 nationally in several offensive categories — 13th in field goal percentage, 33rd in free throw attempts and 37th in scoring offense (points per game). Despite the encouraging numbers, head coach Teri Moren knows there's more work to be done.
Moren, during Indiana's media day Thursday, said the Hoosiers need to increase offensive production. There are three main areas they will look to do that.
One of Indiana's main deficiencies on offense last season was from the perimeter. None of the previously mentioned top-40 offensive categories included 3-point shooting for the Hoosiers. In fact, the team ranked outside the top 200 nationally in all perimeter shooting categories — 215th in 3-point percentage, 250th in 3-pointers made and 270th in 3-point makes per game.
Without the long ball as a strong suit, though, Indiana still averaged more than 72 points per game last season. Ironically, this team can shoot really well from three — it just didn’t happen in 2019-20. Sixth-year guard Ali Patberg led the team from beyond the arc, shooting 38.6 percent, but no other player shot over 33 percent. Jaelynn Penn, Aleksa Gulbe and Grace Berger — who all started at least 30 games — shot 30 percent or less from the perimeter.
“We’re always getting up a lot of shots,” Moren said. “That’s obviously an area we’re always working on, getting a lot of shots up from beyond the arc.”
Moren stressed consistency with both Berger and Gulbe. They both can hit the three ball, but she wants them to be more consistent. She also hinted at an addition to sophomore forward Mackenzie Holmes’ game, adding her to the mix of potential 3-point contributors.
In high school, Holmes worked on her 3-point shooting infrequently, only shooting them when the defense would give them to her. She said she shot threes in high school because, well, she could. In her freshman year at Indiana she didn’t attempt a single three, but that will likely change this season.
When her layups weren't slipping off the backboard this offseason while training in her snowy driveway in Maine, Holmes was working on a more consistent 3-point shot.
“One thing that COVID did do is give me a lot of time to expand my game,” Holmes said. “I had so much time in the day to work; just keep working on things I wouldn’t usually work on, and an outside shot was definitely up there on my list.”
With a backcourt of Patberg, Berger, Penn — who has not been cleared to play yet after offseason foot surgery — and Danielle Patterson, plus bigs such as Holmes and Gulbe being able to step out and shoot the 3-pointer, Indiana's offense should see an increase in those paltry percentages from a season ago.
The addition of Danielle Patterson
Adding a McDonald's All-American always helps a team. That’s what Patterson was in 2017, as well as a Jordan Brand Classic All-American. She initially landed at Notre Dame, but after creating a relationship with Patberg during her short stint in South Bend, Patterson knew Indiana was the right option when she decided to transfer in 2019.
There’s no denying the talent Indiana is adding to its roster with Patterson. The Brooklyn native averaged at least 17 points per game every season of her prep career. Her playing time was limited at Notre Dame, averaging only 11 minutes per game, but she should blossom with Indiana. Patterson's new teammates and Moren had nothing but praise for Patterson during media day.
“She’s a bucket filler,” Moren said. “With Danielle, Ali and Grace, that’s a big lineup.”
“She’s an awesome person,” Patberg said. “She’s going to be a great addition to our team because she is big, she can score, she can shoot the three, she can post up, she’s long, she’s athletic, she knows the game pretty well, and also she was in two years of college.”
The hurdle for Patterson is an injury that she's been rehabbing from the past year or so. Fortunately, she was cleared on Aug. 28 and said she's been ramping things up and getting more comfortable with the team and her own game.
Patberg, who also transferred from Notre Dame and went through extensive injury rehab, said she has played a huge role in getting Patterson comfortable in the offense and keeping her spirits high. Patberg was Patterson’s host when she visited Notre Dame, and they’ve kept in touch ever since.
“Our relationship is really great,” Patterson said, “and I’m so excited to play with her and have her as my point guard.”
With Penn’s rehab still ongoing from her offseason surgery, Patterson’s role could be bigger and even more important than it already was. If she can provide some of that scoring she had in high school, Indiana's depth could be among the best in the nation.
Ali Patberg has to be more selfish
Patberg isn’t wired to shoot, shoot, shoot. She’s a pass-first player. A true point guard. Patberg said that’s how she’s played her entire life. But Moren wants Patberg to be more of a scorer.
“Ali has to score. Ali has to be more selfish,” Moren said. “Ali, I think, and we believe as a staff, can go get a bucket anytime she wants. It’s just her mindset has to shift.”
Last season, Patberg averaged more than 15 points and five assists per game, shot 49 percent from the field and nearly 39 percent from the perimeter. In order for the Hoosiers to become a national contender though, they need Patberg to play selfishly.
Moren admits Patberg will always be an unselfish player, but she needs her to attempt to score the ball at a higher level than she did a year ago. She said that if Patberg can do that, it will not only make her better, but it will open things up for her teammates on the perimeter.
It's something Patberg didn’t shy away from when asked. She understands what added scoring can do for her game — not only at Indiana but at the next level.
“I think if I’m more selfish and looking for my shot, it actually opens up better looks for passes,” Patberg said. “I’m going to do whatever coach wants me to, whatever my team wants me to do, to be at our best.”
Since Moren arrived in Bloomington, the Hoosiers have been an offense-oriented team. Whether they've been led by Tyra Buss, Alexis Gassion, Amanda Cahill, Ali Patberg, Grace Berger, or whoever else, it's clear Moren likes to run the floor and score the ball. And last season, Indiana scored the ball efficiently, shot the ball well and got to the free-throw line a lot.
But if the program is going to take the next step toward becoming a national contender, Moren knows the 3-pointer has to come around. And with the addition of Holmes’ shot, Patterson’s presence and Patberg’s selfishness, it just might happen this season.
A good program is never satisfied. It’s always looking for areas to get better. Indiana is arguably coming off of its best season in program history, but they’re nowhere near satisfied yet. That’s the mark of a great program, and it’s time we realize that’s what Indiana women’s basketball is.