Defensive changes lead to Gophers’ win

Minnesota shot 82 percent from the free-throw line, its best showing of the year.

Paul Cordes

The Minnesota women’s basketball team is back on the winning track after a trio of atypical events during Sunday’s game.

And with the image of a buzzer-beater loss at home all too clear in their minds, the Gophers took no chances in their 75-62 victory at Williams Arena.

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The uncharacteristic combination of junior forward Leslie Knight’s 18 points, 31 made free throws by the team and a 2-3 zone defense proved to be very effective against the Nittany Lions.

Coach Pam Borton has always been known to play a strong man-to-man defense for most of the game. But Penn State’s inside presence and lack of outside shooting took the Gophers out of their usual defensive comfort zone, but it didn’t look that uncomfortable.

Borton said she likes the tough-nose aggressiveness of the man-to-man, but with players like Penn State senior guard Amanda Brown who averages 14 points per game underneath the basket, Borton decided to change things up a bit.

“Penn State is one of the best teams in the country at offensive execution,” she said. “We went to the 2-3 zone and it worked for us well.”

The 2-3 zone worked well enough to hold Brown to just four points and one offensive rebound on the night.

Minnesota senior guard Kelly Roysland, who had her fifth 20-plus point game of the season, said it was the most she had ever played zone defense in her time with the Gophers.

“I can’t remember a time we were in a zone this long,” she said. “But we forced them to shoot over us and overall I felt we executed very well.”

Minnesota (12-8 overall, 4-3 Big Ten) was just as effective on the other side of the court as well.

Knight was dominant underneath the basket for the Gophers, and her 18 points were a career high.

Borton said Knight’s herky-jerky style of play is a tough thing to guard.

“Knight is really tough to defend,” Borton said. “We’ve always had a tough time defending undersized post players, and I think a lot of teams are going to have that problem when they go up against Leslie.”

Penn State (9-11, 2-5) didn’t just have a problem defending Knight, however.

Despite Minnesota leading by as much as 16 two times in the game, the Nittany Lions refused to back off and cut the Gophers’ lead to nine at the 4:35 mark. But free throws decided the game for Minnesota.

The Nittany Lions sent the Gophers to the line 38 times and of those 38, Minnesota sunk 31, a season best.

Penn State actually won the field goal battle 23-20, making the 31 points from free throws even more important.

“Free throws were a big part of our win tonight,” Knight said, who herself went 2-for-2 from the line. “I think we shot better from the free-throw line tonight than we have all season.”

The free-throw percentage – 82 percent – was the best the Gophers have shot from the charity stripe this year, and Penn State coach Rene Portland said Minnesota’s free throws were just a part of the Gophers’ balanced attack.

“They shot well from the line and overall played very well,” she said. “They had a lot of energy and played with enough confidence to get the job done.”