Gophers race past Ohio, advance to title game

Minnesota shot 72 percent in the first half against Ohio and won 85-40.

Betsy Helfand

The Gophers thoroughly dominated Ohio on its way to an 85-40 win Saturday at Williams Arena.

The two teams played 40 minutes, but the game was decided within the first few.

Minnesota shot a scalding 71.9 percent in the first half and held Ohio to just 16 points. But head coach Pam Borton said there was “nothing positive” said in the locker room at halftime.

“It’s really hard when you’re up by 40 points to go out there and not be lackadaisical,” Borton said.

Borton said it was a great sign for her to see the team not let up in the second half.

“The intensity level stayed the same, the focus was the same and that’s really, really hard to do,” Borton said.

Junior guard Sari Noga said Borton gave the team a goal to hold Ohio to 40 points. She said having such a challenge helps make the team better when it has big leads.

Minnesota set the tone early, as sophomore guard Rachel Banham hit three three-pointers in the first five minutes.

“I think Rachel hitting shots right away just gives everyone a little bit of a boost, and it’s contagious,” Noga said.

Banham had a team-high 18 points in 23 minutes.

The Gophers forced turnovers and capitalized, especially in the first half, when they scored 27 first-half points off 14 Ohio turnovers.

Borton said she was happy with the team’s defensive performance, which held the Bobcats to 21.8 percent shooting.

Senior Katie Loberg returned for the Gophers after getting her knee scoped recently.

Loberg had 12 points and five rebounds in 13 minutes. She said she felt like she hadn’t missed a beat.

“It feels really good to get started on a positive note. It definitely gives me a lot of confidence,” Loberg said. “I took a couple shots that I wasn’t sure were going to go in, and they just kind of fell for me.”

Minnesota’s four freshmen — Mikayla Bailey, Shayne Mullaney, Jackie Johnson and Jane Thompson — saw action, and Borton said Saturday was a good opportunity to get them experience.

Mullaney controlled the point for much of the second half, scoring eight points with eight assists in 24 minutes.

Borton said Mullaney played “smart.” She said having Mullaney at point guard and Banham at shooting guard is an option moving forward.

With the win, Minnesota (3-0-0) advanced to Sunday’s championship game against Maine.