Blowout to nailbiter: second-half shooting nearly costs IU women’s basketball

Ali Patberg and Aleksa Gulbe listen to coaches during timeout

Redshirt junior Ali Patberg and sophomore Aleksa Gulbe listen to their coaches Jan. 27 in Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall. IU beat Nebraska Feb. 9 57-53. (Claire Livingston)

A fast-paced, high-scoring offense spiraled into a sluggish second-half performance for No. 18 IU women’s basketball on Sunday. IU blew a 25-point lead but escaped with a win against Nebraska, 57-53.

“On a day that we didn’t shoot it very well, we made just enough plays to get out of here with a win today,” IU head coach Teri Moren said.

IU’s offense opened the first quarter with 12 unanswered points. Junior guards Jaelynn Penn and Ali Patberg blew by defenders and found opportunities inside the paint. They finished with 24 combined points.

Nebraska called a quick timeout to slow IU’s pacing, but the timeout couldn’t slow Moren’s offense. Patberg continued to score and find her teammates around the floor.

Sophomore guard Grace Berger sprinted to the rim, dribbled behind her back and hit jump shots in defenders’ faces. She also grabbed 10 first-half rebounds which led to open layups from her teammates.

Before Nebraska could set up its defense, Berger tracked down the rebound, fired the ball across the half court line and found sophomore forward Aleksa Gulbe and senior forward Brenna Wise under the rim.

Despite a brief shooting slump late in the second quarter, IU’s passing and high-tempo offense held a 41-23 lead. Struggles similar to its loss to Maryland on Jan. 20, however, resurfaced.

“We knew that in spite of having a great first quarter that they were not going to go away quietly,” Moren said.

The Hoosiers shot 29% from the floor, while the Huskers connected with 47% shooting in the third quarter. IU was forced out of the paint and continued settling for perimeter shots.

When IU players tried racing to the basket for layups, they ran into the long arms of junior center Kate Cain, who finished with five blocks on the afternoon.

Patberg hit an open shot with 4:09 left in the third, which would be the last Hoosier basket for roughly 13 minutes. Determined to end its three-game losing streak, Nebraska kept putting points on the board and keeping IU off.

The fourth quarter was the least action-packed of Sunday’s game. Combined, the two teams scored 19 points. But it was the Huskers who hit their shots and overcame the 25-point deficit.

“Give them credit for coming back the way they did,” Moren said. “They got nice pieces.”

With 3:21 left, Cain connected on a jump shot that tied the game at 51. Holmes missed a shot near the basket on the other end, but Berger got the ball and drew a foul. The sophomore connected on both free throws and gave IU its first points of the quarter.

Nebraska tied it up on its next play, and two minutes of back-and-forth misses followed. Moren called timeout and needed someone to give IU the lead with 38 seconds left.

Berger ran past defenders on the right side and finished with a contested reverse layup, IU’s only basket of the fourth quarter.

“In spite of Grace having a tough night, I still wanted the ball in her hands,” Moren said. “She made a tough shot.”

Nebraska would have one play left and targeted the left side of the paint. Senior guard Nicea Eliely drove to the basket but ran into Wise who slid over and took the charge. Moren was not surprised by her lone senior’s defensive play.

“She makes timely plays but is always willing to get in there and give up her body,” Moren said. “She’s selfless and all about our team.”

Penn drew a foul and hit both of her free throws to seal the game for IU.