Defense down stretch gives women’s hoops 67-56 victory

Aaron Blake

Despite a week to think about its two-game losing streak and an inferior opponent, Minnesota’s women’s basketball team didn’t blow Northwestern out. They did, however, come out of the game feeling improved and on the winning side once again.

The 15th-ranked Gophers (16-3, 5-3 Big Ten) beat the Wildcats 67-56 in front of 8,419 at Williams Arena on Sunday.

After yielding 74 and 94 points in its last two games, Minnesota bore down defensively, holding Northwestern without a field goal in the final 6:40 and to just 23 points in the second half.

“When it came down to the wire we did what we had to do, which is something we’ve been talking about in practice all week,” Gophers coach Pam Borton said.

The Wildcats (6-15, 1-9) stayed close throughout and crept to within three at 57-54 with 6:40 left.

By clamping down defensively and outscoring Northwestern 10-2 over the final six-plus minutes, the Gophers avoided the type of breakdown that resulted in a loss at Michigan State on Jan. 23.

In that contest, Minnesota led the first 37 minutes but was unable to put the Spartans away. In the end, the Gophers couldn’t find the basket and dropped their second game of the season 74-71.

On Sunday, the Gophers actually finished with their biggest lead of the game.

“We got stops when we needed to and got rebounds when we needed to,” Borton said. “We did that down the stretch and that’s why we won this basketball game.”

In addition to the defense that closed the game for the Gophers, Borton gave credit to the player that kept her team ahead offensively and tied a career-high for scoring in the process.

Senior captain Corrin Von Wald continued her season-long assault of the Williams Arena nets, scoring 19 points and hitting 4-of-6 three-pointers just in the first half. She finished with 25 points, eight rebounds, and seven steals – also tying a career high.

Back on track offensively was 2002 Big Ten Player of the Year Lindsay Whalen, who scored 18 points after managing only 20 in her past two games combined.

“I felt good today,” Whalen said. “I started off a little more aggressive and was able to concentrate on my defense.”

After you include center Janel McCarville’s 14 points, nobody else could put the ball in the basket consistently for the Gophers.

In fact, a Shannon Bolden jumpshot with 11:31 remaining in the game led to the first points scored by any Gopher besides Von Wald, Whalen, and McCarville.

Minnesota’s big three shot 19-for-32 from the field and 14-for-16 from the free-throw line while the rest were 5-for-24 and 0-for-3.

The Gophers led by as many as nine in the first half before Northwestern closed the gap to 37-33 at the break.

After trading runs early in the second half, Minnesota was able to hold off the Wildcats with its suffocating stretch defense culminated in its best defensive performance of the Big Ten season.

The Gophers forced 17 turnovers on 12 steals while only turned the ball over seven times themselves. In addition, Northwestern was held to just seven free-throw attempts.

“It’s a good sign to know that we don’t have to shoot 55 percent to win,” Whalen said. “We know we can buckle down, take care of the ball and play defense. That’s something positive we can take away for the next couple weeks.”

The Gophers begin a three-game road trip Thursday at Ohio State in search of their first Big Ten road victory.

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