Gophers end regular season with victory, clinch double bye for Big Ten tournament

Guard Kenisha Bell led the team with 24 points in the game.

Gophers women's basketball player Kenisha Bell loses control of the ball during the game against Wisconsin on Thursday, Jan. 18 at Williams Arena. 

Ellen Schmidt

Gophers women’s basketball player Kenisha Bell loses control of the ball during the game against Wisconsin on Thursday, Jan. 18 at Williams Arena. 

Ellie Martin

After their last victory against Illinois Sunday afternoon, the Gophers can now shift their focus to the postseason.

Minnesota (22-7, 11-5 Big Ten) defeated Illinois 84-75 on the road in Champaign, Illinois. The victory clinches a double-bye in the Big Ten tournament for the team as they are now the No. 4 seed. Illinois’ losing streak moved to 17 games with the defeat.

“I could not be more thrilled for our players to have this opportunity to go into the Big Ten tournament,” head coach Marlene Stollings said. “A double bye for the first time in 10 years.”

Minnesota ranked as the fifth highest-scoring team in the country, averaging 85 points per game heading into the matchup. The Gophers faced off against Illinois, the worst team in the Big Ten.

Illinois, however, proved to be a challenge in the second half.

Minnesota had the lead until Illinois took its first lead of the game with seven minutes left in the third quarter with a 13-0 run, making the score 43-39.

Illinois continued its run throughout the quarter, expanding their lead 50-43 with the Gopher’s struggling to offensively. By the end of the third, Minnesota regained momentum forcing it to be a one-possession game but still trailed 53-55 entering the final quarter. 

The Gophers slowly started to pull away in the fourth quarter. Minnesota demonstrated its offensive strength in the final frame of the night, scoring 31 points compared to Illinois’ 20.

Five Minnesota players finished with double-digit scoring totals by the end of the game.

Guard Kenisha Bell led the team with 24 points on 6-11 shooting. Guard Carlie Wagner scored 21 points. Guard Destiny Pitts had 15 and guard Gadiva Hubbard had 10.

Forward Taiye Bello was all over the glass, grabbing 16 rebounds. She also scored 10 points to finish with a double-double. Wagner also got a double-double, totaling 11 rebounds.

“Defense played a big role, especially when the shots just aren’t going in” Bello said. 

The Fighting Illini shot a higher percentage from the field than the Gophers. Illinois shot 40 percent and Minnesota shot 34 percent.

The team’s 22 victories are the most since the 2014-15 season, where they had 23. Fifth-seeded Iowa plays either No. 13 Wisconsin or No. 12 Northwestern. That game decides which team Minnesota faces off against in the conference tournament.

“This means a lot. We’ve really been showing our fight, competitiveness and toughness in each game we’ve been playing this year,” Bell said.