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Dream denied, Grace Berger, Indiana women’s basketball turn to big 2020-21 season



LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Who’s going to be the one that tells Grace Berger what the limit was for the Indiana University women’s basketball team this season?

That the Hoosiers’ season would already be complete?

That they would not be competing in the Elite Eight or trying to wiggle into the Final Four this weekend?

That the jarring, premature end to their season would have been no big deal by March 29?

Not me.

Because, if you say any of that, you’re dismissing the truth that Indiana was as dangerous as any dark horse in the country.

One team defeated top-ranked South Carolina this season. That was Indiana. Berger, a former Sacred Heart Academy star, scored 10 points as the Hoosiers beat the Gamecocks by 14 on Nov. 28 in the Virgin Islands.

IU rolled to a 24-8 record, backing up the victory over South Carolina with five other Quadrant I wins and a No. 16 ranking in the final Associated Press poll.

This was going to be a Selection Monday unlike any other for Berger, teammate Jaelynn Penn of Louisville’s Butler High School and the rest of coach Teri Moren’s formidable team.

Last season, the IU women upset Texas for the third NCAA Tournament victory in program history. This season, the Hoosiers planned to watch the NCAA Tournament Selection Show with the expectation that Bloomington, Indiana, would be chosen as one of 16 host sites for first- and second-round games.

Every college and high school player whose team was still competing in a tournament will get this question: Where were you when found out your season was over?

“With my teammates at Cook Hall getting ready for a workout,” Berger said. “Coach had given us four days off after the Big Ten Tournament, and we had a workout at 5.”

There was no workout. Around 4:30 p.m., word percolated on Twitter that the NCAA canceled the women’s and men’s tournaments because of concerns about the spread of the novel coronavirus.

“It was kind of surreal,” Berger said.

Several of Berger’s coaches were returning from recruiting trips, she said. When the staff and team finally assembled, they talked for more than an hour in an emotional team meeting.

“We felt all kinds of emotions,” Berger said. “It was kind of heartbreaking, especially disappointing for our senior (Brenna Wise).”

When it ended, Berger returned to her apartment, gathered her stuff and drove back to Louisville.

That’s it. Season over.

Now, Berger is committed to improving as much as a junior as she did during her sophomore season. A year ago, when she averaged 5.5 points, made five 3-point shots and shot only 52.1% from the free-throw line, she was not voted to the Big Ten All-Freshman Team.

That motivated her to improve her conditioning as well as her shooting and ball-handling skills. A year after Berger started four games, she started 30 this season.

The unrelenting offseason work showed. Berger blossomed into a first-team All-Big Ten player, finishing second on the Hoosiers in scoring (13.1 points per game), third in rebounds (5.2), seconds in assists (3.5) and first in steals (1.4). She tripled her 3-point production to 15.

When Berger made 10 of 15 shots while Indiana beat Florida in Gainesville, the NCAA selected her as one of the five best players in the country.

As solid as Indiana was this season, Berger is not the only one who believes the Hoosiers should be better in the 2020-21 campaign. IU loses one player — Wise — while adding Danielle Patterson, a 2017 McDonald’s All-American who transferred from Notre Dame.

One early, early, early 2020-21 preseason poll ranked IU as the No. 15 team in the country.

Top 15? The Hoosiers should be a top-10, maybe top-five, team.

“I was kind of surprised,” Berger said.

But not for long. After giving her body the typical two-week break at season’s end, Berger has returned to work.

With gymnasium and workout facilities closed, Berger has tried to maintain her fitness by running. She has an exercise bike, free weights and the spirit to improve.

She said that she has a basketball goal in her driveway, and that her father has always been a willing rebounder.

Virtual classes resume Monday at Indiana, and Berger is serious about pursuing her degree in sports marketing and management. The IU players have gathered for an occasional team meeting on the Zoom video app. Perhaps they will be able to return to Bloomington this summer.

“We had a really good season,” she said. “We beat the No. 1 team in the country and hung with some of the other top teams in the country.

“We just have to make the best of this and come back even better next year.”

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