Women’s hoops gains confidence in losses

Ryan Schuster

There was a noticeably different atmosphere during the Gophers women’s basketball team’s post-game interviews after the team’s pair of eight-point weekend losses.
Instead of wearing their normal tired looks of disappointment and struggling to put a lopsided loss into words, the Gophers players carried themselves with a newfound sense of confidence following Friday’s 68-60 loss to Michigan State and Sunday’s 75-67 loss to No. 12 Illinois at the Sports Pavilion.
Down 17 points to Illinois at 64-47 with seven and a half minutes left following a driving layup by Illini guard Katie Coleman, the Gophers (4-19 overall, 1-12 Big Ten) came back to life. Minnesota went on a 17-5 run in the next five minutes, capped by a three-pointer by sophomore guard Erin Olson, to pull within 69-65 with 2:15 remaining.
“We’re starting to play well,” Gophers senior center Angie Iverson said. “Before, if we got down by 15 or 20 points we’d quit or give up. The last two games we’ve played we’ve come back and had spurts of energy and just at the end we’ve got to finish it off.”
Illinois did not lose its poise, though.
The first-place Illini (17-5, 10-2) recovered to score six of the last eight points of the game, five of them on free throws by last year’s Big Ten Player of the Year, Ashley Berggren.
“We kept our composure and stayed with the game plan,” Berggren said. “We knew we could win the game, and we got back on track.”
Illinois was helped by three missed three-pointers and a errant layup by forward Lynda Hass in the final two minutes of the game.
“We were getting open looks, but the shots just weren’t falling for us,” Iverson said. “There is going to come a day when they will fall.”
The Gophers outshot Illinois 41 percent to 34 percent for the game, including a 46 percent to 40 percent edge in the second half, and had a season-high 13 steals on Sunday. Illinois took twice as many free throws as Minnesota did, though, and pulled away at the end.
Minnesota’s eight-point loss to Michigan State on Friday was a near mirror image of Sunday’s game.
On Friday it was an 11-1 run to cut the Spartans’ lead to 63-60 with 2:19 to go that kept the Gophers alive before Michigan State capitalized on four Minnesota turnovers and made five of six free throws in the final two minutes to salt away the win.
The Gophers were led in scoring in both games by Iverson, who scored 16 points and had 10 rebounds against Michigan State on Friday and pumped in 21 points and 13 rebounds against Illinois on Sunday.
For the first time this season the Gophers played two strong back-to-back games and were close enough to win both in the final minutes.
“The last few games we’ve done a lot of soul searching,” Gophers coach Cheryl Littlejohn said. “In spite of losing, I can go home and feel good about it. We played hard. We gave it everything we had and left it all out on the floor.”
Despite going 0-2 over the weekend for the fourth time in a row, there were clearly some encouraging signs for the Gophers, who made a big step toward turning their season around by at least playing better.
“It’s a start,” Iverson said with a slight smile.

SUNDAY’S SUMMARY
No. 12 ILLINOIS 38 37 — 75
GOPHERS 27 40 — 67

ILLINOIS (17-5)
Catchings 2-8 6-8 10, Vassey 2-7 1-2 5, Leonhardt 1-3 2-4 4, Berggren 5-13 12-15 22, Parker 2-6 2-2 8, Reinking 3-9 1-1 8, Scheeler 2-5 0-0 5, Coleman 2-6 2-4 7, Albers 1-3 0-0 2, Guarneri 1-1 0-0 2, Vandertop 0-0 0-0 0, Bond 0-0 2-4 2. Totals 21-61 28-40 75.

MINNESOTA (4-19)
Robinson 1-6 0-0 2, LeCuyer 2-5 5-8 9, Iverson 9-19 3-4 21, Young 0-0 0-0 0, Burns 2-5 0-1 4, Hass 4-9 2-3 13, Olson 1-4 2-2 5, Hansen 3-4 0-0 6, Schieber 2-7 0-0 5, Whitfield 1-1 0-2 2, Pickens 0-0,0-0 0. Totals 25-60 12-20 67.

Halftime — Illinois 38, Minnesota 27. 3-Point goals — Illinois 5-16 (Shieler 1-1, Parker 2-6, Coleman 1-4, Reinking 1-5), Minnesota 5-17 (Hass 3-7, Olson 1-2, Shieber 1-6, LeCuyer 0-1, Burns 0-1). Fouled out — Leonhardt. Rebounds — Illinois 47 (Berggren 10), Minnesota 41 (Iversen 13). Assists — Illinois 9 (Catchings, Berggren, Guarneri 2), Minnesota 13 (Burns 5). Total fouls — Illinois 17, Minnesota 29. A — 2,559.