Gophers end seven-game slide, win two straight

Gophers end seven-game slide, win two straight

Image by Simon Guerra

by Jesse Mandell-McClinton

The womenâÄôs basketball team finally found a way to finish out close games, grabbing its first two conference victories of the season with home wins over Northwestern and Michigan.

âÄúWeâÄôve really grown and matured into a good team,âÄù head coach Pam Borton said of the teamâÄôs play in the last two games.

Against Northwestern on Thursday night, as theyâÄôve been doing for most of their Big Ten schedule, the Gophers got out to a solid start. Thanks to senior Katie LobergâÄôs quick 10 points, they mounted a 17-10 lead six minutes into the game.

The momentum didnâÄôt last long, however, as the WildcatsâÄô All-Big Ten center Amy Jaeschke scored eight points during a late 16-4 run that helped Northwestern take a 26-21 lead. Minnesota was able to stop the bleeding, but headed into the half down 31-27.

The Gophers came out strong in the second half, tying up the score in just 1:20. Momentum seesawed the rest of the evening.

The play of the game came from Loberg, who dived to grab a loose ball with about seven minutes left and a 1-point lead. Minnesota went on to score on that possession and never looked back, keeping Northwestern on its heels as they charged to 63-58 victory.

âÄúIt feels like we won the national championship,âÄù junior guard Kiara Buford said after the game. After some recent struggles at home, Buford scored 18 points against the Wildcats, including 12 in the second half.

The second half against the Wildcats could ultimately be looked upon as the turning point of the season for the Gophers, as they battled through seven lead changes and were able to finally close out a tough game at home. While Minnesota gave up 26 points to Jaeschke, they were able to shut down the rest of the Northwestern offense.

On Sunday at home against Michigan, the win came a little bit easier for Minnesota. The Gophers jumped out to an early 13-4 lead, and soon pushed it to 21-7 midway through the first half, as all five starters got involved in the scoring. The team continued its solid play through the half, and headed into the break up 31-22.

Then things started to go downhill the same way they had for most of the season. After Minnesota pushed its second half lead to 36-24, the Wolverines went on an 18-9 run to pull within 1 point at 43-42 with 7:22 to play. However, this time, Minnesota had the veteran leadership to keep the game from slipping away.

Senior guard China Antoine picked up the teamâÄôs intensity on defense and distributed well on offense, finishing the game with only one turnover and keeping Michigan off balance as the Gophers finished the game on a 17-8 run. Antoine iced the game with a 3-pointer in the closing seconds, and Minnesota ended up leading the game wire-to-wire in the win against the Wolverines

The Gophers got an unexpected boost in the two wins from freshman forward Kionna Kellogg, who had a total of 28 rebounds, 12 of them offensive.

âÄúSheâÄôs going to be a special player,âÄù Borton said of Kellogg, who was in the starting lineup for consecutive games for the first time this year.

As for the rest of the season, Minnesota has some work to do if they want to climb into the top half of the Big Ten. Both Michigan and Northwestern coaches said that the Gophers record doesnâÄôt reflect how talented the team is.

âÄúWe think we can beat anybody on any night,âÄù Buford said after the win Sunday. Junior forward Jackie Voigt said the team had learned a lot from their early struggles, and have been able to use that knowledge to help them put solid games together.

Minnesota is still tied for the worst record in the Big Ten, but now has some momentum as it prepares for an Indiana team next week that stole an 80-79 overtime game from the Gophers earlier this year.

Borton said the team would be able to enjoy these wins for a couple hours, but are looking forward to the match-up against the Hoosiers.

âÄúWeâÄôre going to build off these two wins and keep it rolling,âÄù she said of the teamâÄôs recent success. âÄúThis team has worked harder than any IâÄôve coached.âÄù