Gophers top rival Wisconsin 64-53 with strong second half performance

Jack Satzinger

Minnesota lost two overtime games at Nebraska and Indiana last week, but rebounded Thursday night to top rival Wisconsin 64-53 behind a strong second half.

"The way that we played in the second half tonight showed that we really learned a lesson in these past two games," Minnesota head coach Pam Borton said. "We did not defend and we did not rebound [down the stretch] in the last two games we lost."

The Gophers (13-7, 2-4 Big Ten) were unimpressive in the game's first 20 minutes and trailed the Badgers (9-9, 2-4 Big Ten) 29-23 at the half.

Minnesota has one of the best players in the nation in Rachel Banham, who leads the Big Ten in scoring. Banham's shot was off in the first half and the Gophers paid the price as its offense lacked tempo and flow.

"Everybody needs to play and stop watching Rachel play basketball," Borton said. "I think we played more uptempo [in the second half]. We didn't have any flow in the first half, it felt like we were stagnant."  

The Gophers won the second half by 17 as Banham hit more shots to finish with a game-high 19 points. Improved play from the inside was also a key for Minnesota. 

"We had a post presence in the second half offensively," Borton said. 

That jolt came largely from senior Micaëlla Riché, who filled in well for center Amanda Zahui B. amid foul trouble. 

"We've been working on [rebounding] a lot the past couple days," said Riché, who finished with 15 points and a game-high 10 rebounds. "At halftime we knew we really needed to step it up."

Borton said she hopes Thursday night's win can be a launching pad for the Gophers, who face Penn State on Sunday. With a 5-1 Big Ten record, the Nittany Lions top the conference standings. 

Penn State is led by senior guard Maggie Lucas, who makes 97-percent of her free-throws to lead the nation. 

"I think Sari [Noga] has done a great job against her, but she's going to make shots," Borton said of Lucas. "You can't send her to the foul line… We're going to have to really try to limit her touches and make things tough for her."