Gophers await fate after tourney

Minnesota will find out next Monday if it has sealed an NCAA tournament bid.

Minnesota center Amanda Zahui B. shoots the ball against Ohio State during the Big Ten women's tournament on March 6 in Chicago, Ill.

Minnesota center Amanda Zahui B. shoots the ball against Ohio State during the Big Ten women’s tournament on March 6 in Chicago, Ill.

Ben Gotz

The Big Ten’s two players of the year couldn’t have looked more different playing in the conference tournament’s quarterfinals on Friday night.

Minnesota’s Amanda Zahui B., who was chosen by the media, towered over her counterpart, Kelsey Mitchell of Ohio State, who was chosen by the conference’s coaches.

But it was Mitchell who led her team to triumph, leading all scorers with 29 points. Ohio State’s 83-71 victory ended the Gophers’ conference tournament run one day after the team beat Purdue.

Now the Gophers will wait until next Monday night to find out their NCAA tournament fate.

“We came out, played a good first game. I think the second game kind of just slipped away from us a little bit defensively,” senior forward Shae Kelley said. “But just going forward into the NCAA tournament, we just [have to] come out with that hunger to win.”

The Buckeyes started the game cold from the floor, but turnovers prevented the Gophers from taking advantage.

The Gophers attempted to get their conference player of the year involved on offense from the outset, but several wayward passes prevented Zahui B. from establishing herself.

After scoring her team’s first six points, Zahui B. did not record a field goal for the rest of the first half, a span of almost 17 minutes.

“I just have to catch the balls and work harder to get a better position,” Zahui B. said. “We had some great looks.”

Minnesota still kept the game close for the first 10 minutes until the Buckeyes began a 15-4 run to take command of the game.

The Gophers were unable to fight back. They had standout performances from a few players but little production from everyone else.

Zahui B. lit up the scoreboard in the second half, finishing the game with 25 points, 11 rebounds and 11 blocks.

Kelly added a double-double, and freshman Carlie Wagner scored 18 points.

But the Gophers only got five more points from other players.

The Buckeyes, on the other hand, showed improved strength across the board, out-rebounding the Gophers on the night.

In their regular season matchup, a 76-72 victory, the Gophers’ dominated the glass. Minnesota recorded 20 more boards than Ohio State in that game, despite Zahui B. sitting on the bench for long stretches in foul trouble.

“We saw a [very] different team in terms of their physicality than we did when we played in Columbus,” head coach Marlene Stollings said. “For our young ladies, I think that we’re still working through what it means to play on this stage and to handle the increased intensity and physicality that comes with this time of year.”

On Friday night, the Gophers’ star stayed on the court, but it wasn’t enough for the team to muscle past Ohio State.

But the night before, they secured the team’s 23rd victory of the season, which Stollings said makes her confident that the team won’t miss the NCAA tournament.

“We feel very secure in getting an NCAA bid,” Stollings said. “[We] feel that our tournament resume is extremely solid with the 23 wins — where our RPI is. We think we’re certainly a tournament team.”