Late collapse dooms women’s hoops

Ryan Schuster

For a while Sunday at the Sports Pavilion, it looked like the Gophers women’s basketball team was capable of upsetting first-place Iowa, halting the Hawkeyes’ Big Ten title hopes and snapping their own season-high 10-game losing streak.
Then the first half ended.
Minnesota (4-22 overall, 1-15 Big Ten) came out fired up early on and used its intensity and smothering defense to stifle Iowa’s offense in the first half. The Gophers used a 17-4 run in the middle of the half to take a 25-20 lead, capped by Lynda Hass’ three-pointer with 3:31 remaining in the half.
“Iowa was at the top of the Big Ten, and we were at the bottom,” senior center Angie Iverson said. “What an upset it would have been.”
It was not to be, though. The Hawkeyes roared back, scoring the last six points of the first half and opening the second half with a 24-8 run en route to a 71-59 win in front of 2,085 fans at the Sports Pavilion. The loss represented Minnesota’s fourth second-half self-destruction in its last five games.
“Sometimes I wish there wasn’t a halftime because we end the first half on such a high,” Iverson said. “Then we come in and are kind of lackadaisical with a lot of things, and it takes a little while to start kicking it in again.”
Two weeks ago, the team fell apart in the closing minutes of two eight-point home defeats to Michigan State and Illinois before losing by 33 points at Indiana last weekend. The Gophers also pulled to within a point of third-place Michigan on Friday before again stumbling in the second half and losing, 56-53.
The Gophers’ two weekend losses guaranteed them of their third straight last-place Big Ten finish and locked them into the No. 11 seed for the Big Ten tournament Feb. 27-March 2 in Indianapolis. Minnesota will play No. 6 seed Wisconsin (20-8, 9-7) Friday night in the tournament’s first round.
Iowa’s aggressiveness and full-court press were the keys to their second-half comeback, which forced 15 second-half Minnesota turnovers and turned the tables on the slower, less-talented Gophers. The rally allowed the Hawkeyes (16-9, 13-3) to clinch their second outright Big Ten title in the last three years.
“That’s our bread and butter,” Iowa forward Shannon Perry said. “You can just see the fear in the opponents’ eyes when they see (6-foot-4) Tangela Smith on the press.”
Despite a 19-point, 18-rebound performance from Iverson in the last home game of her Gophers career, 11 points from Hass and six straight points from sophomore guard Erin Olson in the last three-and-a-half minutes of the game, Minnesota was again unable to come all the way back.
Like they have most of the season, the Gophers made a run midway through the second half, outscoring Iowa 13-2 during a four-minute span in the middle of the half, but couldn’t sustain the comeback. The same thing happened Friday.
The Gophers cut a nine-point Michigan lead down to one at 54-53 on a running 12-foot jumper by junior guard Mindy Hansen with 1:56 remaining. But Minnesota missed its final four shots of the game and lost by three points.
With 12.2 seconds left, sophomore guard Erin Olson was called for a questionable charging foul as she was putting up a shot. On the ensuing possession, Michigan’s Pollyanna Johns was fouled and hit two free throws with 7.3 seconds remaining.
A last-second desperation attempt by freshman guard Ayesha Whitfield was partially blocked by Michigan guard Anne Thorius and fell harmlessly to the floor five feet short of the basket, sealing the Wolverines’ victory.
“We did the little things all the way through the game, and coming down the stretch we had them on the ropes,” Olson said. “We shoot better than 36 percent, and it’s a win.”
The Wolverines (18-8, 10-6) outshot the Gophers 46 percent to 36 percent for the game, but took eight fewer shots. Michigan’s 56 points on Friday was its lowest scoring output of the season.
Michigan, which came into the game leading the conference in three-point shooting, was an abysmal 1-for-11 from beyond the arc and didn’t have any of its perimeter players score in double figures for the first time this season. The Gophers, however, were still unable to eke out a win.
“I think a lot of it has to do with inexperience,” Gophers coach Cheryl Littlejohn said. “A lot of the games we were in last year were already determined at the end of the game. We had no chance to win them. (Friday) we positioned ourselves in the best possible position to win.”
In what has become a continuing trend, the Gophers played just well enough to compete at times over the weekend, but could not make the one play or start the one run at the end to finish it off.
“We were so close,” Iverson said. “It’s tough losing these kinds of games, especially when you know that you are just about ready to get over the hump.”

SUNDAY’S SUMMARY

IOWA 26 45 — 71
GOPHERS 25 34 — 59

IOWA (16-9)
Smith 6-16 10-12 22, Herrig 6-10 0-0 12, Domond 4-8 2-4 12, Perry 3-4 0-1 6, Consuegra 1-2 0-0 2, Hamblin 6-10 0-0 12, Peterson 1-7 2-2 4, Gooden 0-3 1-2 1, Knopf 0-0 0-0 0, Johns 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 27-60 15-21 71.
GOPHERS (4-22)
Iverson 6-14 7-10 19, Hansen 4-11 0-2 8, Schieber 1-7 2-4 5, Robinson 2-8 0-1 4, Whitfield 1-4 0-0 2, Hass 3-9 2-2 11, Olson 3-4 0-0 6, Burns 1-6 0-0 2, Klun 0-2 2-2 2. Totals 21-65 13-21 59.
3-point goals — Iowa 2-3 (Domond 2-3), Minnesota 4-14 (Hass 3-5, Schieber 1-7, Whitfield 0-1, Hansen 0-1). Fouled out — Whitfield. Rebounds — Iowa 37 (Smith 9), Minnesota 48 (Iverson 18). Assists — Iowa 21 (Domond 7), Minnesota 15 (Olson 4). Total fouls — Iowa 17, Minnesota 21. A — 2,085.