Gophers miss opportunities, fail nonconference tests

Minnesota lost at home to Virginia and on the road to No. 20 Kansas.

Minnesota forward Michëlla Riché (15) tries to get past Virginia player Simone Egwu to score at the game against Virginia at Williams Arena Thursday night.

Ichigo Takikawa

Minnesota forward Michëlla Riché (15) tries to get past Virginia player Simone Egwu to score at the game against Virginia at Williams Arena Thursday night.

by Samuel Gordon

The Gophers women’s basketball team had a chance to make a statement with a couple of big nonconference wins over the weekend.

But Minnesota couldn’t deliver.

Virginia crushed Minnesota 90-68 on Thursday, and No. 20 Kansas beat the Gophers 65-53 on Sunday. Minnesota, which started the season 4-0, has dropped three of its last five games.

Rachel Banham paced the Gophers in the first half Sunday with 10 points as Minnesota and Kansas entered the break tied 30-30. Banham led the Gophers with 19 points.

The Jayhawks (7-0), however, were ultimately too much for Minnesota. Kansas went on a 9-0 run with 10 minutes left in the game and pulled away for the 12-point victory.

Foul trouble limited Micaella Riché, who has been Minnesota’s second-best player so far this season. Riché finished with six points on 3-for-9 shooting.

Minnesota couldn’t take advantage of the Jayhawks’ poor free-throw shooting (10-for-25) and three-point shooting (3-for-14).

All Big-12 forward Carolyn Davis finished with 20 points on 8-for-11 shooting. Forward Chelsea Gardner added 14 points.

Banham was the only Minnesota player to score in double figures.

Though Minnesota was somewhat competitive against the Jayhawks, it was blown off the floor by Virginia.

The Cavaliers thoroughly dominated the Gophers in their Big Ten/Atlantic Coast Conference Challenge matchup at Williams Arena, handing Minnesota its first home loss of the season.

Virginia played a physical style of basketball that the Gophers didn’t seem ready for.

The result was a bevy of easy baskets, both in transition and in the half-court offense. The Cavaliers capitalized on Minnesota’s poor interior defense and shot nearly 59 percent from the floor.

Virginia guard Kelsey Wolfe led all scorers with 25 points.

“I’m not sure they could have played much better than they did,” Gophers head coach Pam Borton said Thursday. “It felt like our defense couldn’t stop anything they were doing.”

Sari Noga scored eight quick points to give Minnesota an 18-10 lead, but it didn’t last long.

“I got some wide-open shots right away,” Noga said Thursday. “They saw I was getting hot, so they definitely were right on me a little more.”

The Cavaliers tightened up defensively and took advantage of holes in Minnesota’s defense to go on a 21-5 run. They kept their foot on the gas and took a 46-34 lead into halftime.

Virginia carried its momentum into the second half and broke the game open. Every trip down the court, it seemed to find a wide-open shooter or a quality look down low.

Riché was a non-factor. She had two points and four rebounds before fouling out with 8:51 left in the game.

“It’s just her coming out and playing more aggressive and playing smarter,” Borton said Thursday of Riché. “A lot of her fouls aren’t very smart fouls. … We need her in the game.”

Banham led the Gophers with 21 points. Noga finished with 14.

Fortunately for Minnesota, it won’t have to travel for the remainder of its nonconference schedule.

The Gophers will play five more nonconference games, all at Williams Arena, before opening up Big Ten play at Michigan State on Jan. 3.