Gophers regress with pair of losses in winnable contests

by Ryan Schuster

After the Gophers women’s basketball team’s 81-73 upset win at Michigan State on Jan. 11, it looked as if Minnesota and new coach Cheryl Littlejohn were about to turn the corner and erase the memory of the team’s dreadful 3-11 start.
This weekend’s home and away series against Ohio State and Northwestern, two teams near the bottom of the conference standings, seemed to offer further opportunity.
But, it was not to be, as the Gophers trailed by as many as 21 points in Friday’s 73-60 home loss to Ohio State (11-5, 4-3) and fell flat again in an 84-65 loss at Northwestern on Sunday.
“Before (Friday’s) game we were all in a good mood,” freshman forward Theresa LeCuyer said. “We thought, ‘This is a game we can win for sure. We’re at home; we just got over a big win at Michigan State.’ We were all confident. The bottom line is we didn’t execute the game plan. There’s no excuse. We just didn’t execute our game plan.”
The Gophers (4-13, 1-6) built an early 7-3 lead in the first two and a half minutes Friday, but the rest of the game and the weekend steadily went downhill from there.
Ohio State responded by going on a 23-9 run in the next 11 minutes to take a 33-26 halftime lead and rolled to a 13-point victory in front of 1,291 people at the Sports Pavilion.
“It was very painful to sit and watch on the sideline,” Littlejohn said. “We didn’t handle Ohio State’s defense. They came out and executed their game plan, but our players were not ready to play. Not at all.”
Minnesota has not won back-to-back games since January 1995, when the Gophers beat Indiana, Michigan and Iowa consecutively.
While Minnesota played a complete 40-minute game against Michigan State in the team’s biggest win of the season, it fell apart at various points during Friday and Sunday’s losses.
“I had an opportunity to see their Michigan State win and they did just about everything right and played very hard,” Ohio State coach Beth Burns said. “We thought going in that containing (guard Kiauna) Burns’ penetration was going to be critical.”
Burns scored only two points and committed six turnovers, four of them in a two minute span in only 10 minutes of play Friday and did not play Sunday at Northwestern.
The Buckeyes had a season-high 14 steals and Minnesota made a mere six shots in 17 attempts from the field in the first half.
“At halftime I told my staff that I didn’t think that we could play any worse, but obviously in the second half I don’t think we picked it up,” Littlejohn said. “So, I guess I shouldn’t have said that.”
Minnesota was outshot 50 percent to 40 percent from the field on Friday and committed 27 turnovers.
“Something wasn’t there,” Gophers center Angie Iverson said. “It wasn’t the fact that we weren’t prepared because we knew all the offenses we were running and we knew what we had to do. Something just wasn’t there. I don’t know if it was enthusiasm or what.”
Iverson led the Gophers with 15 points on 4 of 7 shooting. LeCuyer scored 11 and junior forward Lynda Hass chipped in 10 points, all in the second half.
Ohio State’s forward combo of Marrita Porter (26 points) and Larecha Jones (23 points) outscored the Gopher starters 49-29 in the blowout.
“We let two players beat us,” Iverson said.
As bad as they were on Friday, the Gophers actually played worse on Sunday in a 19-point loss at Northwestern. The Wildcats entered the game as the only team in the Big Ten without a conference victory.
Minnesota hung close throughout most of the first half and held a 19-18 lead with 6:48 left in the first period. But as they have for most of the season, the Gophers again failed to play a complete game. The Wildcats went on a 17-4 run over the next four minutes and took a 39-30 halftime lead.
In the second half, Northwestern’s lead swelled to as many as 28 points before the Wildcats emptied their bench with seven minutes left in the game.
Northwestern’s Kristina Divjak led all players with 26 points and nine rebounds and Amber DeWall had a career-high 12 assists, as many as the entire Gophers team tallied in the game. LeCuyer led Minnesota in scoring for the second time in the last three games with 17 in 22 minutes, and Hass added 13.
The Gophers, who were 2-15 overall and 0-7 in the Big Ten after 17 games last year, have made some progress under Littlejohn this season, but have yet to play consistently.
“We had a letdown,” LeCuyer said. “Coach has been saying that we have to play a full 40 minutes. The only game that we’ve really done that has probably been at Michigan State.”