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Grace Berger makes ‘surreal’ return to lineup in Indiana win

Grace Berger is back in Indiana's lineup. (Jeffrey Brown/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Grace Berger returned to the court Sunday for the first time since November. In her comeback, she shook off the rust and helped lift No. 6 Indiana past Northwestern, 72-50.

Berger was injured Nov. 25 at the much-criticized Las Vegas Invitational. The tournament was held in a ballroom at The Mirage hotel, and while Indiana’s Teri Moren said the senior guard’s knee injury was not a result of the location, she called the tournament a “major miss” for women’s basketball.

Since then, Berger has been absent from the team’s lineup. She missed eight games for the Hoosiers, who dropped one game in her absence but still have an impressive 15-1 record.

The fifth-year senior returned Sunday with a statement-making 16 points, five assists and two steals, all in just 27 minutes.

“It felt really great, almost like surreal because it feels like it’s been forever since I played a game,” Berger said. “Definitely a little nervous and really anxious at first. I feel really fortunate that I had a chance to get back out there with a good bit of the season left.”

Berger knew she’d be making her return “around this time” due to the team’s initial timeline for her return, she said.

“It was easy to be positive and work hard every day on myself,” she said. “While I was out for that six weeks or so, it was great to see some of the younger kids get an opportunity, just see them get that confidence. The depth is something that’s going to separate us down the road.”

Senior forward Mackenzie Holmes, who led Indiana with 24 points and 13 rebounds against Northwestern, called Berger an “all-around player.”

“Having Grace back helps in all aspects of the game,” Holmes said. “Offensively, defensively, as a leader. You feel a lot better that you have another extraordinary ball-handler and a vet that understands pace and time and score and all of it.”

Moren, meanwhile, said Berger’s return provides a boost for everyone – including the coaching staff.

“It gives everybody a shot in the arm, including our staff,” Moren said. “But what I’ll say is Grace is a fantastic player who’s gonna be a pro, and the thing that sets her apart is she makes everybody around her better.

“And there’s a lot of great players that can go score, but there’s not a lot of players like Grace that can score and facilitate, put pressure on the defense and then sprint to the other end and want to guard the way she wants to guard.”