Home court, rebounding propel Gophers to upset Nebraska

Minnesota is now 2-6 against ranked opponents on the season.

Gophers senior Kiara Buford drives for two of her 16 points in the Gophers’ upset of Nebraska on Monday at Williams Arena.

Gophers’ senior Kiara Buford drives for two of her 16 points in the Gophers’ upset of Nebraska on Monday at Williams Arena.

by Betsy Helfand

The Minnesota team that pulled off an impressive 64-58 win Monday night against No. 16 Nebraska at Williams Arena looked vastly different from the one that was blown out against the same team on the road three weeks earlier.

The Gophers (5-8 Big Ten) have struggled all season on the road, but they have found ways to complete with — and twice beat — elite teams at home.

“I think playing in Williams Arena brings a bit of magic to our team, or a little bit of energy,” head coach Pam Borton said after Monday’s win.

Unlike the last time the two teams played Jan. 22, the Gophers didn’t seem to be outmatched against an up-tempo Huskers team.

Minnesota lost that game 64-49 as Nebraska at one point went on a 20-0 run. 

This time, it was the Gophers that made a run — a 13-0 spurt to start the second half that extended their 27-24 halftime lead to 16 points.

The Huskers responded with a 22-6 run of their own to tie the game at 46-46 with just over 10 minutes remaining.

The score remained close down the stretch, but the Gophers were able to pull away in the last minute and close out the game with free throws.

A Kionna Kellogg put-back on a Rachel Banham miss put the Gophers up for good with 1:01 remaining.

Banham was then fouled after a key Brianna Mastey offensive rebound with 15.3 seconds left. The freshman point guard sunk both shots to put the Gophers up 62-58.

Nebraska (8-4) could not get any of its shots to drop in the final minutes en route to its second straight loss.

Five of eight of Minnesota’s Big Ten losses have been by two possessions or less, but Monday, the team was able to close the deal.

“I think we did a good job fighting through adversity when [Nebraska] made plays in the end,” senior guard Kiara Buford said.

Minnesota has often been forced to rely on Banham and Buford at the end of games, but it had help Monday.

Banham led the Gophers with 21 points and made three 3-pointers. Buford had 16 on 6-for-9 shooting.

Mastey started the game instead of Leah Cotton and pulled down 11 rebounds, including the offensive rebound that allowed Minnesota to pad its lead.

Borton said that she felt like the team “needed to make a change” in the lineup after its 75-58 loss at Iowa on Thursday.

“[Mastey] brings us rebounding, and I think that’s something that we needed to get back to,” Borton said.

Minnesota, led by Mastey and Kellogg with 11 each, outrebounded the Huskers 42-31. The Huskers’ Jordan Hooper, who led the Big Ten in rebounds with 9.3 per game, was held to just six rebounds on Monday.

“We haven’t been rebounding the ball very well in the last five games, and I thought we really redeemed ourselves tonight,” Borton said.  “That was a big key in beating Nebraska tonight.”

That, and a solid showing from each of Minnesota’s starters — not just Buford and Banham.

“When everyone is stepping up and everyone is doing things, that’s when we end up winning games,” Banham said.