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Gophers grind out ugly win at home

Rachel Banham scored 19 points Thursday in the Gophers win.

Nothing about Minnesota’s 60-53 win over Illinois on Thursday night was pretty, but the Gophers escaped with the win in a game head coach Pam Borton described as a “street fight.”

The Gophers played sloppy for 35 minutes but dominated the last five minutes and pulled away from the Illini.

Borton said that down the stretch, her team “played smart basketball like [they] haven’t in the last four minutes of games throughout the year.”

Minnesota and Illinois were tied at 45-45 with 4:59 remaining before the Gophers went on an 11-0 run, highlighted by a Rachel Banham 3-pointer as the shot clock expired.

“I just started counting down and so I knew I had to hit the shot,” said Banham, who led all scorers with 19 points.

“We made the plays down the stretch offensively and defensively. We got stops, and we got rebounds,” Borton said.

Minnesota outrebounded Illinois 38-31 despite another quiet night from top rebounder Katie Loberg.

Loberg played just 12 minutes and did not score or record a rebound.

She left the game after she committed her fourth foul with 10:55 left and did not return.

Kionna Kellogg stepped up in Loberg’s absence down the stretch. She scored five of her eight points and pulled down two of her five rebounds in the last five minutes.

“I thought Kellogg just put her head down, and it just kind of looked like she was going to take matters into her own hands,” Borton said. “That was really nice to see from her.”

Minnesota struggled throughout the whole game handling the ball. The Gophers committed 27 turnovers and allowed 21 Illinois steals.

Guards Kiara Buford and Banham led the team with six and five turnovers, respectively.

“I think we were getting sped [up] on offense a lot and then they started pressuring us more through the first half and throughout the second half,” Buford said.

The win despite its ugliness was a testament to the team’s toughness in the last five minutes.

“I thought we were the tougher team tonight and really found a way to gut it out, grind it out and find a way to win,” Borton said.

Illinois went on a 12-0 run during the middle of the first half, but the Gophers closed out the stanza on an 8-0 run.

“I thought we did a great job making a run to go into halftime and really digging ourselves out of [the] hole that we were digging ourselves,” Borton said.

Illinois shot just 19-for-59 on the game, committed 20 turnovers of their own and could not put together a run in the second half.

Despite the tough shooting, four Illini players scored in double-digits.

After the game, Minnesota honored its four seniors. Buford, Brianna Mastey, Nicole Mastey and Jackie Voigt were each presented with jerseys and took the microphone in a tear-filled ceremony. 

Voigt returned to action after missing six games with a concussion and scored four points in 22 minutes.

Nicole Mastey was inserted into the game with just 15 seconds left in the game. She had played in just seven games this season prior to Thursday.

The Gophers play No. 9 Ohio State on Thursday in Columbus, Ohio. Minnesota upset Ohio State 76-65 earlier this season.

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