BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — Teri Moren doesn’t care about outside expectations. She doesn’t care about rankings. Her players don’t care about them either.
Indiana women’s basketball has proven themselves over the last two seasons as a constant top 25 team in the nation, but they still feel like they have something to prove.
“Just how fast everything went down since March, and I think it’s one of the things that’s motivated them to be in the gym and work,” Moren said. “This has always been a very motivated group. They were last year. I don’t worry about the expectations for this group. I think they’ve been here long enough to know the success they’ve had is because of the work they’ve continued to do.”
For the first time in program history, the Hoosiers were on their way to back-to-back NCAA Tournaments — this time with a chance to host games at Assembly Hall in the first two rounds.
But because of COVID-19, that opportunity was taken away. Their hard-working senior, Brenna Wise, had to graduate without accomplishing her goal, which was to play in two NCAA Tournaments at Indiana.
Wise’s departure was the only significant loss for the team in Bloomington right now.
Ali Patberg, Grace Berger, Jaelynn Penn, Aleksa Gulbe and Mackenzie Holmes are all back with a cast of role players and impressive freshmen. It’s the making of Moren’s deepest Indiana team so far in her seventh season at the helm.
For five straight seasons, Indiana has won 20 or more games, and last season was the best one at 24-8.
This is a year with unlimited potential, and it all starts with the Hoosiers’ sixth-year point guard in Ali Patberg.
Patberg just turned 24 in September, and she jokes that she still feels young at heart. She is the main cog in Moren’s system and she’s the fuel to this team’s fire.
Moren wants Patberg to be more aggressive this season and look to score the ball more, which is something Patberg said she will do if she has to.
“I’m a team player,” Patberg said. “With me, that’s doing whatever I’m asked. If that’s what they want from me, I’ll look to be more selfish. Most of my life, I’ve liked to pass first and set people up. But, if I’m more selfish, it might open things up for others. I’ll do whatever the coaches want me to do.”
One unfortunate circumstance heading into this season is the uncertainty of Jaelynn Penn’s health.
Penn played a majority of last season with plantar fasciitis in both of her feet, which caused her to limp on the floor a few times. Moren announced Thursday that Penn had surgery this offseason and she’s not fully back yet.
Penn is an athletic guard that can shoot the three and defend well. Not having her on the floor for the immediate future will be detrimental to Indiana, but that’s where the depth comes in.
Moren believes her backcourt duo of Patberg and Grace Berger is the best backcourt in the country.
“They’re awfully good,” Moren said. “Ali Patberg is due to have a tremendous senior season, and Grace Berger isn’t too hard behind. I like my chances with Ali and Grace.”
As Berger heads into her third season, she said she’s more comfortable with her 3-point shot than she’s ever been before. Berger mostly does her damage from the midrange, but if she can become a dangerous distance shooter, Indiana’s offense will become much better.
Then there’s the frontcourt. Notre Dame transfer Danielle Patterson has been practicing at the three and four positions. Gulbe seems like she’ll be playing much more of a stretch four this season, and Holmes has also looked to expand her game.
Holmes said if there was one thing quarantine did well for her, it was that it allowed her time to work on her jump shot.
If Holmes, Gulbe and Patterson can all space the floor, Indiana will have a versatile offense that will allow Patberg to get downhill and create for others.
“I think having the opportunity to be out there (3-point line) will expand the defense a lot,” Holmes said.
In what’s going to be the most unique season in college basketball, it’s on the players to be responsible when they aren’t practicing on the court.
Berger said they have created their own women’s basketball bubble, only hanging out with members of the team to try to stay safe.
“We’re all so close and all such great friends that it’s been easy to do,” Berger said. “It hasn’t been too hard because we all get along and have great chemistry.”
The excitement level around this team is high, potentially higher than it’s ever been for the Indiana’s women’s basketball program.
The whole team knows it, but they don’t care. Patberg said their goal is to win a Big Ten Championship, something that hasn’t happened since the 1982-83 season.
Then, of course, their goal isn’t just to make the NCAA Tournament, but to advance far into it. The farthest the program has ever gone is only the second round, which happened twice under Moren in 2016 and 2019.
This is a team built off principles of hard work and never being satisfied. It’s a staple of Moren’s coaching, and it’s trickled down to her players to think the exact same way.
“We’re all bought in and doing what we have to do to push one another, get better individually and get better together,” Patberg said. “It’s going to be great. Every game, we have to leave it all out there.”
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