INDIANAPOLIS — Grace Berger is approaching the 2020-21 women’s college basketball season as if Indiana hasn’t accomplished anything yet. Her words.
Yet it feels very much like the Hoosiers accomplished quite a bit last winter, as if her definition of “anything” differs from Webster’s and the one IU fans bring to the arena.
In some quantifiable ways, the women’s team is coming off the best season in program history. The Hoosiers finished 21-6 overall, 16-2 in the Big Ten, and advanced to the Elite Eight of the NCAA tournament.
Berger, one of five returning starters for IU, last Friday tried to explain with various mathematical equations and the like at Big Ten Media Days just why that added up to nothing in her head.
Her reasoning is not difficult to comprehend. The Hoosiers did not win a Big Ten crown and they did not win the national championship. But anyone in Bloomington who was paying attention while IU was making its run in San Antonio recognized something special was happening.
The players in their bubble were in a quarantine of sorts due to the coronavirus, but received snippets of information from home portraying supporter delight through social media.
Veteran players like Berger, a 6-foot guard from Louisville, who averaged 15.4 points, 6.8 rebounds, and 4.6 assists a game and then was chosen to play for Team USA in the AmeriCup, and Ali Patberg, who between redshirts and the bestowing of an extra year of eligibility because of the pandemic, is closing in on finishing a masters degree, give coach Teri Moren steady hands running the squad on the floor.
They understand a certain duality of what last season brought, going deeper into the tournament than ever before, yet still able to look ahead to doing more. IU women’s basketball under the tutelage of Seymour native Moren, who was rewarded with a contract extension (the administration certainly felt the team accomplished something) is on the rise.
What the players are saying is that they don’t want last year to be the peak of their success, but only a milestone step on the way to greater success. By talking this way, they are helping Moren get her message across to the whole team: Stay hungry.
Moren wants the Hoosiers to relish the achievements, but not bask in their glow for too long. The time for reviewing the past has pretty much passes and pre-season practice looms leading up to the season opening in early November.
“In order to take the next step,” Moren said Friday, “let’s look at why we came up short of the Final Four.”
The low-key tone of Berger’s analysis? “That’s good that they feel that way. There’s always something you’re chasing. They’re playing for something bigger.”
Moren has been a college coach for 17 seasons, the last seven at IU. The women have always been in the shadow of the men’s team, its long history, and its fancy resume of Big Ten and NCAA titles. Moren has guided IU to six consecutive seasons of at least 21 wins.
Last season was not a fluke, it was a natural progression. It may have marked the moment when Indiana shifted from being a good team to a team everyone must reckon with, a team everyone must fear.
While Moren received considerable pleasure from IU’s big moment on the grand stage in the NCAAs, she looks at the results as part of a continuum, or as she specified, the trajectory of where “it’s (the program) been” and “where it’s going.”
Patberg, who is from Columbus, and started her college career at Notre Dame, was teased about staying in school long enough at IU to earn a doctorate. But the 5-11 guard, who averaged 14 points and 3.7 assists per game last year, is already 15th all-time in program scoring and third in assists.
Berger and Patberg know what heights Moren is aiming for in the long run for the IU women.
“She wants us to be one of the premier programs in college basketball,” Berger said.
Berger understands her coach very well and Berger and Patberg process where they were last season and where the roster talent and maturity is now and think, “Why not us?”