Gophers down Manhattan to reach WBI final

Katie Loberg scored 15 points in Friday’s win over Manhattan.

Betsy Helfand

The Gophers ensured themselves one final game this season with a 67-54 win in Friday’s Women’s Basketball Invitational semifinals over the No. 8-seeded Manhattan Jaspers.

No. 2 Minnesota saw a 12-point lead whittled away to two points to end the first half.

They held a 33-31 lead and allowed the Jaspers to hang with them for much of the second half before going on a 14-2 run to close out the game.

“I’ve got to give Manhattan a lot of credit. I think they came ready to play tonight and they played extremely well,” head coach Pam Borton said.

Borton said that she thought her team did a great job making adjustments to Manhattan’s 1-3-1 zone defense, which it hadn’t experienced yet this year.

Minnesota continued its recent trend of being dominant in the post. The Gophers scored 42 points in the paint to Manhattan’s 14.

Katie Loberg came off the bench and led Minnesota in both scoring and rebounding. She had 15 points on 7-for-8 shooting and five rebounds.

Micaella Riche also contributed 10 points.

The Jaspers connected on 10 of the 24 3-point field goals they attempted.

“I think our ball pressure and pressure on the ball handlers was a lot better, and we forced them to take outside shots. They didn’t have much offense in the paint,” senior guard Kiara Buford said.

Unlike the Gophers’ last game against Bradley in which the teams combined to shoot 55 free throws, just six free throws were shot Friday.

The Gophers were 6-for-6 from the line, and the Jaspers did not attempt a free throw.

Borton said Manhattan’s reliance on outside shooting contributed to its lack of free throws, but she added that the Gophers “played smarter, not really bailing them out on our penetration.”

Freshman Rachel Banham, who scored just six points against Bradley, rebounded with a 14-point performance.

As March rears on, the Gophers are one of only two Big Ten teams still playing basketball. Penn State is still alive in the NCAA tournament.

“It’s just another game to be able to play with the seniors,” Loberg said. “They’re really great people and it’s kind of fun to be able to do this instead of postseason [workouts]. It’s a great opportunity.”

The Gophers are now 14-4 at Williams Arena and 18-17 on the season.

Minnesota will host No. 7 Northern Iowa in the WBI finals Sunday at 2 p.m.

Northern Iowa beat top-seeded Seattle 68-64 in Seattle on Wednesday to advance to the finals.

“We’re going to have to play a lot better on Sunday against Northern Iowa, but we’ll be ready to go,” Borton said.