Gophers’ Olson mum about controversial foul call

Ryan Schuster

Only a few inches separated the Gophers women’s basketball team from a possible victory Friday night at the Sports Pavilion.
With the Gophers trailing Michigan 54-53 and 12.2 seconds on the clock, Minnesota sophomore guard Erin Olson drove the lane and put up a shot just inside the three-point line while crashing into Michigan guard Anne Thorius. Olson was called for charging on the play, which gave the Wolverines the ball amid surprised looks from Olson, the rest of her teammates and coaches and many of the fans in attendance.
On the next possession the Gophers were forced to foul Michigan center Pollyanna Johns, who sank both free throws with 7.3 seconds left, helping the Wolverines to a 56-53 win.
“I thought that official had guts to make that call down the stretch at that point of the game,” Michigan coach Sue Guevara said. “Sometimes in this game it’s a judgment call — a block or a charge. I thought earlier that they had called some blocks (against Michigan) that maybe were charges.
“Anne Thorius stepped up with her defense on Olson one-on-one. That kid had killed us all day and Anne played real great defense on her and took a charge. It was very good defense on Anne Thorius’ part and I thought the right call was made.”
Had Thorius been called for blocking, which usually happens in that situation with the home team on offense and a close play happening so far away from the basket, Olson would have received two free throws and a chance to give the Gophers the lead.
But if Olson, a transfer student from Wyoming, was upset over the call, she refused to say so in a post-game interview after the game.
“The refs make the calls and if it was a charge, it was a charge,” Olson said after the game with a half-hearted smile. Olson’s comment came several seconds after Women’s Sports Information Director Lisa Nelson sternly told her not to make any comments criticizing the officials.
While Olson was tight-lipped about the controversial call, Gophers Coach Cheryl Littlejohn would not blame the team’s third single-digit loss in its last four games on any one play in particular.
“We had so many opportunities to win the game, so I don’t think that that last call really mattered,” Littlejohn said. “Obviously it was called during a crucial time in the game, but we’ve got five people on the floor who for 38 minutes gave it all they had. We just had some breakdowns in the last minute and a half of the game.”
The Gophers missed their final four shots of the game and squandered an opportunity to break their season-high 11-game losing streak. Even so, the team finished the game with a 13-7 run in the last six minutes and appeared to be capable of overtaking Michigan if given more time.
“Give us 30 more seconds, and I think we would have pulled it out,” Gophers senior center Angie Iverson said. “The momentum and the flow were going our way. They had to change their game plan because we were clicking and we were doing so well together. Unfortunately a couple of calls didn’t go our way.”
Sensational sextet
The Gophers received some of their biggest contributions over the weekend from Iverson, Olson, Sonja Robinson, Sarah Schieber, Ayesha Whitfield and Mindy Hansen.
“There were six people that I went with, and believe me, I know that those are the six that are going to give me everything that they’ve got,” Littlejohn said. “I can’t second-guess that because I see effort and commitment every day. That’s my solid core that I have. I’m at the point this season that I can’t make any more changes.”
Iverson, Robinson, Schieber, Whitfield and Hansen had all been starters at different times earlier in the season, only to be later banished to the bench by Littlejohn because of subpar play. Olson, however, was making her first start of the season and her improved play was the most pleasant surprise. The 20-year-old Mitchell, S.D., native had 10 points, eight assists and three rebounds in 35 minutes Friday and six points, four assists and four rebounds during Sunday’s loss to Iowa.
“Erin Olson played a phenomenal game (Friday),” Littlejohn said. “I like her at the point guard position.”
Look for Olson, who replaced freshman walk-on Rachel Young in the lineup on Friday, to start the team’s first round Big Ten tournament game Friday in Indianapolis and to split time with recruit Cassie VanderHayden at point guard next season.