BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (AP) — Grace Berger became an instant Indiana favorite thanks to a gritty playing style and an endearing personality.
Her accomplishments prove she’s one of the top players on perhaps the Hoosiers’ best team.
No. 2 Indiana clinched its first Big Ten regular-season title in 40 years and earned one first-place vote in this week’s Top 25. But Berger insists this is no time to take a victory lap. In Berger’s world, there’s always more work — much more.
“Obviously, it’s a cool moment,” a wistful coach Teri Moren said when asked to describe the net-cutting ceremony after last Sunday’s victory over rival Purdue. “Grace Berger, she continues to tell us we haven’t done anything yet and that goes through my mind, right? I told her when she came off the floor, ‘We haven’t completed the task yet, but we have secured the championship.’”
Even if the unflappable guard didn’t immediately acknowledge the significance of the 83-60 win over the Boilermakers.
Teammates and coaches insist this is no act and have the stories to prove it.
When Berger opted to return for one more season, she asked a teammate to inform Moren. When she made her final departure in her last regular-season home game, she was so focused she needed a reminder about the title-winning scenario. And when asked whether the new championship attire fit, she joked the hat was a little big.
Berger has never found any goal too large to pursue.
It explains why the Kentucky 2018 Miss Basketball Award finalist and 2018 Louisville Courier-Journal Female Athlete of the Year bypassed the opportunity to join stronger, more established programs such as her hometown Cardinals, her home-state Wildcats or Michigan to play between those borders at Indiana.
Even then, Berger knew Moren was building something she wanted to be part of. Now, everyone is reaping the rewards, thanks in large part to the 6-foot guard that has given her heart and soul to the program she loves.
Berger’s value cannot be underestimated by those inside or outside the program.
“Three’s no one more heady on a basketball court than Grace Berger,” Purdue coach Katie Gearlds said in offering the kind of complement any basketball player would embrace.
Sydney Parrish, Indiana’s 2020 Miss Basketball, also learned about Berger’s presence after transferring home from Oregon.
“ She means everything to this program,” Parrish said. “People give a lot of credit to other people, but a lot of it goes to Grace and coach Moren and Mackenzie (Holmes). They built this program. You can credit some of the newer girls, but they’re the ones who did this. They built it from the bottom, a program that wasn’t much at the start.”
While Berger credits others for helping the Hoosiers’ steady ascent — those who came before her arrival and those who followed her to Bloomington — few have a stronger legacy.
She enters Sunday’s game at No. 6 Iowa ranked ninth on the Hoosiers’ career scoring list with 1,763 points and second in assists (545).
She’s a three-time first team all-conference selection, a two-time member of the conference’s all-academic team, a 2022 Big Ten Distinguished Scholar and a 2022 all-tournament team selection. In fact, Indiana’s only loss this season came at Michigan State when Berger was out with what some initially feared might be a season-ending knee injury. She missed eight games.
Berger takes more pride in other defining moments like breaking the school’s attendance record four times this season and producing the first home sellout in program history.
Or matching the school record with a 15th consecutive victory in front of another sellout crowd this Sunday at Iowa (22-6, 14-3) and possibly locking up Indiana’s first No. 1 NCAA Tournament with ESPN’s Gameday crew in town. Indiana (26-1, 16-1) claimed its first outright title when the Hawkeyes were routed Tuesday night at No. 7 Maryland.
Berger’s goals probably don’t end there.
Though she’s kept her aspirations relatively private, Berger & Co. are already fielding questions about a first Final Four trip and even adding a sixth national championship banner to the Assembly Hall collection. The men’s team has won five titles.
Until then, Berger will continue pushing her teammates to cast aside the current accomplishments and focus instead on what can be added next.
“It’s really special,” she said Sunday when asked about the conference crown. “But I came back to do more than win the regular season. We still realize that a lot of our goals are ahead of us. We’ll enjoy this one today, but we still have a lot more work to do.” ___
AP women’s college basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/womens-college-basketball and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-womens-college-basketball-poll and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25