Gophers miss golden opportunity in loss to Purdue

If things played out right for the Minnesota womenâÄôs basketball team on Thursday, it could have been tied for first place in the Big Ten by nightâÄôs end. But instead, by the end of the night the Gophers fell to fourth in the conference after a 55-40 loss to the Boilermakers in Williams Arena. If both Ohio State and Michigan State âÄì the two teams above Minnesota in the Big Ten standings âÄì would have lost its games on Thursday and the Gophers won, Minnesota would have moved into a tie for first with the Buckeyes. While Ohio State did fall on the road to Iowa 85-75, the Spartans snuck past Indiana on the road 71-65 in overtime and the Gophers could not take care of their own business at home. âÄúI feel like us and Purdue, weâÄôre so close,âÄù Minnesota junior guard Brittany McCoy said. âÄúWe needed this game to distance ourselves.âÄù Michigan State now is atop the Big Ten with an 11-3 record, followed by Ohio State at 10-3, Purdue at 10-4 and Minnesota at 9-4. Iowa is not far behind either after its win over the Buckeyes, sitting at 8-5 in Big Ten play. ThursdayâÄôs loss was the second for the Gophers to Purdue this season, falling 56-43 in West Lafayette, Ind., on Jan. 22. âÄúWe felt like we played well at home, but we knew that in this environment we had to prepare like it was an NCAA tournament game,âÄù Purdue coach Sharon Versyp said. Minnesota trailed 27-24 going into the half, led by senior guard Emily FoxâÄôs seven points on 3-of-6 shooting and the teams 48 percent shooting. But Fox would hit only one more field goal to finish 4-of-15 on the night, and the Gophers slumped to shoot 20.7 percent in the second half to let the game slip away. âÄúI thought we had a poor second half, you have to give credit to Purdue for their defense,âÄù Gophers coach Pam Borton said. âÄúWeâÄôve got to be able to score more than 40 points to win.âÄù The Boilermakers depth and size proved to be too much for Minnesota in each match-up, losing the rebounding battle 35-22 on Jan. 22 and 38-29 on Thursday. The Gophers also only managed to shoot 32 percent against Purdue on the road, and finished just above that at home âÄì 32.7 percent. âÄúThe key was playing hard team defense,âÄù Purdue point-guard FahKara Malone said. âÄúWe just wanted to help each other out and stay in front of their players.âÄù PurdueâÄôs athletic defenders and interior size kept Minnesota from penetrating into the lane and made it difficult to get off any shots at all. âÄúIt was definitely a challenge to drive into the lane when there are huge players trying to block your shot,âÄù McCoy said. The Gophers most consistent scorer in Big Ten play âÄì junior forward Ashley Ellis-Milan âÄì was double-teamed by the Boilermakers each time she got the ball in the post. Ellis-Milan shot over 50 percent on the night, but could only get off seven shots against PurdueâÄôs defensive pressure. âÄúWe have a lot of respect for her,âÄù Versyp said of Ellis-Milan. âÄúOur plan was to double her, for her to not get a lot of touches and make other people beat us.âÄù MinnesotaâÄôs next game is a road-test against Michigan on Sunday at 4 p.m.