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'She’s silently confident': The emergence of Grace Berger for Indiana women's basketball

It all started with a long rebound by Indiana freshman guard Grace Berger.

Purdue’s Kayana Traylor missed a 3-pointer from the top of the arc and once Berger grabbed that long rebound just above the free throw line, nothing was going to stop her from going coast-to-coast. The freshman from Louisville took five dribbles as she was guarded by Traylor. But it was the sixth dribble that landed her on ESPN Sports Center’s Top Ten plays.

It was the behind the back dribble that ignited a funnel cloud right at midcourt of Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall. Berger went one way and Traylor got put in a spin cycle and went the other way. From there it was just five more dribbles and another spin move for good measure as Berger converted the layup.

But after the sequence, while her teammates went nuts on the bench and the Assembly Hall crowd rose to its feet, Berger ran back down the floor and played defense like she didn’t just put a Purdue player down on the midcourt logo.

“She’s such a funny kid because she’s very, very quiet, so you don’t get much out of her other than a slight grin,” Moren said. “But to say she’s overly confident, I think she’s silently confident, is the best way to describe her.”

Berger comes to Indiana via Sacred Heart High School in Louisville and is the second Louisville product to play for the Hoosiers in the last two recruiting classes (Jaelynn Penn). Through the regular season, she averages just over five points per game and has started four games overall, while being a regular contributor off the bench.

On a team where there isn’t necessarily one primary scorer every night, Berger has had her chance to shine. She averages just over 20 minutes per game and is another ball handler for the Hoosiers. But when you are tasked with handling the ball, there are increased chances for turnovers, and her reactions to those turnovers are still a work in progress.

“One of the things that Grace is plagued by is she turns it over, then she starts to become a little bit passive,” Moren said. “That’s where she has to mature and grow up and realize that it’s part of the game and put that in the past, move forward and continue to be aggressive because she certainly does give us another scorer when she has that mentality.”

In her freshman season, Berger has primarily come off the bench. She’s started a few games due to injured teammates, but she has been one of the first players off the bench every night for Moren. And it’s the bench that is what Moren addressed the team about bench production right before the Purdue game.

The bench has been a vital part to Indiana’s success and the depth in which the Hoosiers have been able to go to at times this season. It also showed just how important it could be in the opposite direction when there aren’t as many options to turn to, like when Ali Patberg was injured.

Berger, along with the rest of the bench, turned in an impressive performance Sunday in the win against Purdue with a combined 21 points and 20 rebounds. Berger had 11 of those points and the group as a whole must have listened to their coach.

“That’s been the message to Grace Berger throughout, but it’s the message to those four who came off the bench, to impact the game in some way,” Moren said. “Grace obviously stepped up on Sunday and we’ve seen Grace step up on other occasions.”

Berger’s game consists of a lot of shots off the dribble from the free throw line area. It’s a shot she has developed quite nicely. What her game maybe doesn’t consist enough of is communication. It is a key aspect to any team sport and something Berger has had to learn.
I think she’s silently confident, is the best way to describe her

While Moren admits her communication maybe isn’t where it needs to be, it is something she is improving on from when she arrived in Bloomington.

“It just wasn’t in her tank to open her mouth, that’s just not her personality,” Moren said. “I think she’s learned, one, we’re not going to stop demanding that, and two, that we’re a much better team when we’re all on the same page and communicating helps that. I think she has bought into that.”

And while the Sports Center appearance may have been cool for fans and her teammates, Berger wasn’t fazed by the stardom. It’s just who she is.

“Knowing her, she probably thought it was funny, giggly and then she moved on,” Moren said. “I think for the rest of us, it was kind of a cool thing. But for Grace, it was just another thing.”

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