Minnesota drops nail-biter to Purdue

Paul Cordes

The score of the Minnesota women’s basketball game was close all night but the team could never pull the trigger in its loss to the No. 10 team in the country Thursday at Williams Arena.

Purdue escaped with a 58-55 win despite a solid showing by the Gophers.

Minnesota certainly had its chance to steal one away from the Boilermakers as the Gophers found themselves down by one point with possession of the ball and less than 35 seconds to play.

Sophomore guard Emily Fox, who has been Minnesota’s go-to player for the last five games, was unable to hit either of the two short jump shots she took.

The Gophers were then forced to foul three consecutive times before forcing Purdue (20-4 overall, 9-1 Big Ten) into the bonus. The Boilermakers hit their two free throws to close out the game.

Even with the loss, Minnesota coach Pam Borton said she was extremely proud of the way her team played against Purdue.

“I think our team had great effort. They followed the game plan and they worked extremely hard,” she said. “We made great strides tonight, and we’re heading the right direction.”

And despite the two misses, Fox has certainly stood out as one player making big strides. And the second half of Thursday’s game was a sign of that.

All 16 of Fox’s points came in the second half as she caught fire, going 2-of-4 from three-point range and 6-of-12 from the field.

Fox said she came out of the locker room after halftime knowing she was going to have to do more than she did in the first half, which amounted to just two missed shots.

“We just wanted to be more aggressive in the second half,” she said. “First half I wasn’t really looking for my shot because they were all over me. Second half, I knew I had to step up, and my team did a great job of getting me the ball when I had a shot.”

With the bump from Fox in the second half, the Gophers (13-10, 5-5) found themselves in the hunt, but anytime Minnesota moved within striking distance, Purdue seemed to get easy points inside to keep the Gophers at bay.

“We work on moving the ball around a lot in practice, trying to get that extra pass and making things easy for us instead of taking a tougher shot,” said Purdue junior forward Lindsay Wisdom-Hylton, whose 16 points led the Boilermakers on the night.

“We made that extra pass tonight and that got their defense moving a lot and we were able to get the ball inside,” she said.

Other than those lapses inside, Minnesota’s hard-line defense was a strongpoint as it held the Big Ten’s fourth-leading scorer – Purdue senior guard Katie Gearlds – to just four points.

Gophers junior guard Jordan Barnes was an example of that tough defense Thursday as she got her first career start in a Minnesota uniform, taking over the duties of injured senior guard Kelly Roysland.

Boilermakers head coach Sharon Versyp said with the way the Gophers have no reason to sulk considering the way they played against her team, especially without Roysland.

“Minnesota, being as young as they are and obviously losing Kelly, they should be proud,” she said. “Their intensity and their toughness is incredible. You would not know the kind of youth they have out there, and I think they’ve really grown up.”

Coming off the loss to Wisconsin, the young Gophers squad’s ability to compete without Roysland came into question. Borton said her team took a giant step tonight and proved they can play with any team in the country.

“I think we have a lot of people who could have played better or done just a little bit more out there tonight,” Borton said. “We lost by three and put ourselves in a position to win against a great team like Purdue with 21 seconds left without (Roysland).

“This should give our kids a lot of confidence and keep us headed in the right direction, and we’ll be getting some wins here soon.”