Minnesota eases to road victory at Illinois

Emily Wickstrom

Despite its history of home success, Minnesota’s women’s basketball team also has been exceptional in Big Ten road games this year.

The Gophers (16-4, 8-1 Big Ten) remain undefeated in conference games away from home after beating Illinois 64-49 on Thursday at Assembly Hall in Champaign, Ill.

Minnesota now has won each of its five Big Ten road games, which ensures at least tying coach Pam Borton’s best conference road record of 5-3.

The 8-1 Big Ten record also matches the 1982-1983 season for the best start in school history.

Against the Illini, junior forward Jamie Broback was once again the Gophers’ most dominant offensive player, scoring 14 of her game-high 18 points in the first half and also grabbing eight rebounds.

“(Broback) had a well-rounded game,” Borton said. “She scored well, rebounded well and came up with big plays with the shot clock running down. She’s playing like our go-to player right now.”

Minnesota jumped out to an early 26-8 lead sparked by five three-pointers in the first seven minutes ” two each by Broback and Kelly Roysland.

“We started off strong,” Broback said. “That’s huge on the road … the momentum was in our favor throughout the first half.”

The Gophers led 39-23 at halftime after shooting a stellar 53 percent from the field and 50 percent from behind the three-point arc.

“We played really well in the first half,” Borton said. “We executed on the offensive end of the floor really well.”

But the Illini didn’t go away, pecking away at Minnesota’s lead throughout the second half to get within seven late in the game.

After a basket underneath by Shannon Bolden that regained a double-digit lead at 59-49, Minnesota’s defense picked up and held Illinois scoreless for the final three minutes.

“In the second half we lost intensity,” Broback said. “But we did the little things we needed to do in the last five minutes in order for us to come out on top.”

Joining Broback in double figures was forward Natasha Williams, who came off the bench to score 11 points in 19 minutes.

With Purdue’s Thursday loss to Iowa, Minnesota’s victory moved the Gophers up a game in the conference race, now tied with Ohio State for second place and a half-game behind the Boilermakers.

Each team now has just one conference loss.

“(The Purdue game) entered our mind as soon as the game was over,” Borton said. “We’ve got to continue worrying about one game at a time… There’s a lot of basketball to be played yet.”