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Princeton passes one tourney test, faces another at Indiana

March 20, 2022 GMT
Indiana guard Ali Patberg (14) and forward Kiandra Browne (23) celebrate on the bench in the second half of a college basketball game against Charlotte in the first round of the NCAA tournament in Bloomington, Ind., Saturday, March 19, 2022. Indiana defeated Charlotte 85-51. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
Indiana guard Ali Patberg (14) and forward Kiandra Browne (23) celebrate on the bench in the second half of a college basketball game against Charlotte in the first round of the NCAA tournament in Bloomington, Ind., Saturday, March 19, 2022. Indiana defeated Charlotte 85-51. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
Indiana guard Ali Patberg (14) and forward Kiandra Browne (23) celebrate on the bench in the second half of a college basketball game against Charlotte in the first round of the NCAA tournament in Bloomington, Ind., Saturday, March 19, 2022. Indiana defeated Charlotte 85-51. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
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Indiana guard Ali Patberg (14) and forward Kiandra Browne (23) celebrate on the bench in the second half of a college basketball game against Charlotte in the first round of the NCAA tournament in Bloomington, Ind., Saturday, March 19, 2022. Indiana defeated Charlotte 85-51. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
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Indiana guard Ali Patberg (14) and forward Kiandra Browne (23) celebrate on the bench in the second half of a college basketball game against Charlotte in the first round of the NCAA tournament in Bloomington, Ind., Saturday, March 19, 2022. Indiana defeated Charlotte 85-51. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (AP) — Coach Carla Berube and the Princeton Tigers returned to Assembly Hall with a business-like approach Sunday.

Sure, there were joyous smiles over Sue Bird’s postgame text message to Berube after the 11th-seeded Tigers eliminated Southeastern Conference tourney champion Kentucky in Saturday’s first-round NCAA Tournament game.

Otherwise, not much changed after Princeton earned its first NCAA tourney victory since 2015 and the second in school history. Rather, everyone focused squarely on the next big obstacle — beating third-seeded Indiana on its home court Monday night.

“It’s great to be here entering the second round tomorrow,” Berube said with her usual nonchalance. “It’s going to be a great challenge taking on Indiana in this great facility, with I’m sure many, many fans. We’ve turned the page. Really excited for the win last night, but we’re not satisfied.”

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Why should they be?

The Ivy League champs have won 18 consecutive games, 16 by double digits. The Tigers (25-4) have won 42 consecutive conference games, the longest Division I streak by any women’s or men’s team, and they’re one win away from booking the first Sweet 16 trip in school history.

And they’ve done all of it after taking an 18-month hiatus from organized basketball because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Berube and her players didn’t get a chance to prove themselves in the 2020 NCAA tourney, which was canceled, or last March when they watched everyone else play after league officials canceled the season.

“It wasn’t an easy year off. We had to connect with each other through Zoom, we had to figure out how to get better on our own,” guard Grace Stone said. “It was tough. I was watching from my living room and it almost didn’t feel real watching all these teams play. But I think it made us hungrier.”

It certainly showed against Kentucky.

But what they saw from the surging Hoosiers on television last March was a team advancing to its first Elite Eight. What they see on film now is a big, strong, experienced, team motivated by making yet another deep postseason run — playing it second NCAA game on its home court.

Indiana (23-8) needs one win to tie the school’s single-season victory mark. Grace Berger and Ali Patberg broke the school’s career record with No. 89 Saturday against No. 14 Charlotte.

And if they can figure out to get win No. 90 against Princeton they’d be going to another Sweet 16. It won’t be easy

“They cut hard, they play hard and you can’t take a play off with this group,” Indiana coach Teri Moren said, describing Princeton’s offense. “If you jump to the ball, they can beat you with a cut and I think that’s where they put pressure on you.”

HOME FINALE

Berger has already announced she’ll return a fifth season, but Patberg will play her home finale against Princeton. She’s appeared in four NCAA tourneys in seven college seasons.

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Patberg spent her first two years at Notre Dame, the first as a medical redshirt, then sat out 2017-18 after transferring to Indiana. Patberg has played the last four seasons for Moren and she’s not ready for the journey to end just yet.

“I’m trying to stay in the moment because I want to win, I want to win bad,” Patberg said. “I’m trying not to think about it, honestly, but I’m thankful I’ll get another opportunity at Assembly Hall and I want to make the most of it. We want to make the most of it.”

MEYERS MATCHUP

Moren plans to start with Patberg on Ivy League player of the year Abby Meyers, who scored a career-high 29 points in Saturday’s win. And it’s clear to Moren just how difficult defending Myers will be.

“She’s probably a better athlete than she looks,” Moren said. “To say she is on 10 all the time, as far as her activity, would be an understatement. She has a floater game, an up-and-under game. What we’ve seen with Ali is that every time Ali has a challenge, she’s been great.”

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More AP coverage of March Madness: https://apnews.com/hub/march-madness and https://apnews.com/hub/womens-college-basketball and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25