Women’s basketball drops close game to Iowa State

Aaron Kirscht

On game day, the number of empty seats on the bench doesn’t matter a whole lot.
That’s what Iowa State coach Bill Fennelly told his players before their game against the Gophers, who dressed only seven players Sunday.
His prediction proved right, as Minnesota (0-2) gave the Cyclones (1-0) — all 13 of them — a good fight before losing 73-69.
“Our players didn’t read the paper, didn’t see the comments about Minnesota not being very good,” Fennelly said. “I told them (the Gophers) didn’t play like a team that didn’t feel they could win. We luckily had enough to get by and win one.”
For a time, it looked like luck would side with the Gophers, who — carried by junior center Angie Iverson’s 17-point, 17-rebound performance and junior Jaime Ellis’ spotless play at point guard — opened up a five-point lead midway through the first half.
But ISU closed the gap at 21-21 on a baseline drive by senior guard Julie Hand. Both teams traded baskets for the duration of the half, which ended with ISU leading 33-30.
The Cyclones started where they left off, piecing together another rally after halftime. Forward Janel Grimm scored 10 of ISU’s first 12 points to open the second half, helping the Cyclones to an early 11-point lead at 49-38.
But just as quickly as they went down, the Gophers came back.
A pair of driving layups by freshman guard Kiauna Burns served as bookends for a remarkable 21-4 run by the Gophers. The scoring push included a three-pointer by Ellis that put the Gophers ahead for the first time since late in the first half.
Minnesota went ahead by six, 59-53, with just over seven minutes to play before ISU went on another run of its own. A quick pair of jumpers by Grimm tied the game at 61-61 — and seemed to take the Gophers’ breath away.
“We were up by six, everybody in the stands was up and I was thinking we were going to win,” Iverson said, “and then it just … .”
Grimm scored eight points in two and one-half minutes and stole back the lead for the Cyclones. Grimm finished with 19 points, 17 coming in the second half. ISU pushed its lead to five with 1:12 to go and won the game on the free-throw line, going 10 for 10 in the closing minutes.
Minnesota took its second loss of the season, dropping its season opener at Western Illinois on Friday. The Gophers led by five at the half but committed 31 turnovers en route to a 70-61 loss.
“I’m disappointed for them,” coach Linda Hill-MacDonald said, “because they gave me their all out there.”
But Minnesota fans may be wondering if the Gophers’ “all” will be enough this season.
“Coach put some things on the board after the game against Western Illinois,” Iverson said. “One was to keep (ISU) off the offensive boards, the second one was to hit our free throws, and the third was to cut down our turnovers. We did all three.”
They sure did. The Gophers cut their turnover total in half — none of which came from their point guard — and out-rebounded the Cyclones, which Hill-MacDonald admitted was a “very, very good” rebounding team. The Gophers also shot a strong 88 percent from the free-throw line.
But in a game where so many things went right for the Gophers, too much went wrong.
Minnesota struggled against the Cyclones’ zone defense, shooting a dismal 36 percent from the field. And several of those turnovers came at the worst possible times — with the game still in the balance.
Case in point: With Minnesota trailing by two with 10 seconds to play, sophomore guard Mindy Hansen broke free in the paint. But Iverson’s pass sailed high and the Gophers were forced to foul ISU’s Olson, whose free throws guaranteed the Cyclones’ win.
“It just happened at a critical time,” Iverson said. “But I can’t blame myself for (the loss), because there were other things that happened.”
The disappointing outcome didn’t prevent Iverson from looking for some positives.
“We have a lot of things to work on, we’re a young team,” she said, and when the Gophers get everything in sync, “Watch out.”