Hilltoppers end Gophers’ season in Bowling Green

Paul Cordes

All momentum gained after the Minnesota women’s basketball team’s butchery of Illinois-Chicago in the first round of the Women’s National Invitational Tournament was taken right back Monday night.

The Gophers jumped out to an early lead, but a rough ending to the first half allowed Western Kentucky to gain a lead it would never relinquish as the Hilltoppers beat Minnesota 73-57 to end the Gophers’ season.

At the heart of Minnesota’s difficulties were 22 turnovers, which led to 27 points for Western Kentucky.

Coach Pam Borton said the Gophers’ self-inflected mistakes were costly.

“Twenty-two turnovers obviously is going to hurt us, especially at the end of the first half when they put on the half court press and forced a lot of those turnovers,” she said. “And not only the turnovers, but them capitalizing on those turnovers with 27 points, it made a big difference.”

But the game’s opening minutes couldn’t have been any more opposite for Minnesota.

Easy layups off some fast breaks allowed the Gophers (17-16 overall) to jump out to the early lead before they ran into the half court press and some corner traps that eventually put Minnesota in a tough spot.

Freshman guard Brittany McCoy said the Gophers pride themselves on scoring quickly in transition, but Western Kentucky (21-8) found a way to put a stop to it.

“When we come out and put some points on the board like that real quick, it kind of catches teams off guard,” she said. “And it took (the Hilltoppers) a while to adjust, but eventually they picked it up and were able to shut it down.”

And the Big Ten leader in offensive rebounds found a worthy opponent to match them on the boards tonight.

Though Minnesota won the offensive rebound category by one, Western Kentucky won the all around rebound battle 34-33 thanks to powerful play in the post.

The Hilltoppers’ 12 offensive boards led to 16 second-half points, four more than the Gophers managed with the extra rebound.

Senior guard Kelly Roysland, who finished her career with 15 points and a pair of rebounds, said Western Kentucky seemed to have a killer instinct inside.

“It’s been fairly consistent that when we lose the rebound battle, we lose the game,” she said. “I thought they had a lot of great athletes in there who crashed the boards hard and all around they were just a good rebounding team.”

At the top of those great athletes is Hilltoppers junior forward Kelly Crystal who went 9-for-11 from the field as well as 14-for-14 from the free-throw line in her charge to 32 points and 5 rebounds.

But despite the less than sought after performance, Borton said she doesn’t want to judge an entire season on the last game.

Borton said she was proud of the way her young team, one that at several times this season had four freshmen and a sophomore on the floor, matured and came together.

Much of her thanks and focus went to the Gophers’ lone senior and captain, Roysland, who reached 1,000 points in mid-February after returning from a broken collarbone.

“(Roysland) helped re-establish a culture to this program that was missing last year.” Borton said. “Her leadership helped to make this a great team with a lot of great chemistry that they just would not have had without her. She brought this team together and really showed these young kids how to be great.”