Women’s hoops win Air Force tourney

by Aaron Blake

Minnesota’s women’s basketball team faced its first challenges of the young season and came out of the long weekend with three road wins in four days and the Air Force Tournament title.

The 17th-ranked Gophers (5-0) defeated Loyola-Chicago 84-67 Wednesday in Chicago and then traveled to Colorado Springs, Colo., for the Air Force Tournament. Minnesota pulled out a tight 85-75 win over New Orleans on Friday in the semifinals and downed Air Force 88-75 Saturday in the final.

The 5-0 start mimics the previous team-best set in 1982-83. Also, the tournament title was the second for the Gophers in two weeks as they won the Subway Basketball Classic last weekend at Williams Arena.

“We all feel really good about getting three wins on the road this weekend,” Minnesota coach Pam Borton said. “We’ve played five games in eight days now, and any time you win on the road it’s good. These kids are tired.”

Minnesota took the lead for good Saturday after a Lindsay Lieser three-pointer made the score 11-10. Lieser’s bomb triggered a 12-0 run, and the lead was double digits until late in the contest. The Falcons did their best to stick around behind 38 points from Latoya Howell – 28 of which came after halftime.

The Gophers faced a tougher test Friday, trailing most of the first half before taking a 34-33 lead to the locker room. Junior Lindsay Whalen carried Minnesota by scoring the Gophers’ first 10 points and 20 in the half.

The Privateers raced out to a 10-point lead early in the second half before an 18-0 run put Minnesota in the lead for good. New Orleans kept it close though, reducing the lead to a point on three occasions and coming within two with 3:25 left.

“New Orleans came out and did exactly what we thought they would,” Borton said. “They’re a very physical, full court-pressing team.

“We only found our rhythm on offense with about 13 minutes left in the game.”

Whalen was named the tournament’s most valuable player after scoring 36 in the semifinal and 14 in the final. The reigning Big Ten Player of the Year also dished out 16 assists in the tournament.

Also named to the all-tournament team were sophomore Janel McCarville and senior Corrin Von Wald. McCarville led the Gophers with 19 points on 7-of-8 shooting and nine rebounds Saturday. Von Wald followed up her Subway Classic MVP performance with 32 points on the weekend.

Whalen approached a triple-double Wednesday, scoring 29 points, nine assists and nine rebounds in the Gophers’ rout of Loyola-Chicago. Minnesota ran the lead out to 16-5 early and never let the Ramblers come within single digits.

The Gophers get a much-needed day of rest Monday and return to the hardwood Tuesday in preparation for an East Coast road trip to battle Providence and Harvard this weekend.

Aaron Blake covers women’s basketball and welcomes comments at [email protected]