Women’s hoops drops second straight, 53-51

Jim Schortemeyer

Following the Gophers women’s basketball team can be a tease. They show hints of improvement, and then they have a disappointing showing.
Such was the case in Wednesday’s 53-51 loss at Howard, which dropped the Gophers to 3-4 and improved the Bison to 2-4.
Minnesota shot less than 30 percent from the floor while Howard shot more than 37 percent.
The lone offensive bright spot for Minnesota was again the play of senior Sonja Robinson, who was averaging over 12 points coming into Wednesday’s game. Robinson knocked down 16 points and pulled in nine rebounds in the losing effort.
“She has a huge heart,” coach Cheryl Littlejohn said. “She continues to play great basketball. Her energy and effort have never dropped off in any of our games.”
The Gophers jumped out to an early 14-4 lead, but then the shooting went ice cold. Minnesota went more than six minutes without scoring a point, and Howard took advantage and went into halftime with a 29-20 lead.
The Bison stretched their lead to as many as 12 points in the second half before the Gophers finally heated up. Minnesota cut the lead to 52-51 when freshman Cassie VanderHeyden hit a three-pointer with slightly more than a minute remaining.
From then on, however, it was a matter of missed opportunities. With 43 seconds left, Robinson was fouled and went to the foul line for a 1-and-1. She missed the first free throw, squandering the Gophers’ chance for a late lead.
Robinson’s free throw was not representative of Minnesota’s night from the line. The Gophers shot 10-of-13 from the free-throw line — a solid improvement over Sunday’s 16-of-30 effort against UNLV.
But Minnesota would have another chance. The Gophers had possession with five seconds remaining and managed to get junior Moneeke Bowden a 10-foot shot, which caromed off the rim. Howard rebounded and Minnesota committed a meaningless foul with a second left on the clock, which effectively ended the game.
“We went outside our game plan tonight,” Littlejohn said. “Offensively we were inconsistent and didn’t finish.”
Wednesday’s game against Howard is the beginning of a six-game road trip for the Gophers. The level of competition will gradually improve, which isn’t good news for a team that’s shown signs of improvement and needed to beat the Bison to get on a roll. Georgetown (4-2) is Minnesota’s opponent on Friday.
After finals week the Gophers will be back on the road against South Florida and Stetson. The Bulls are off to their third-best start in 27 seasons with a 5-1 mark. The Hatters are even at 2-2.
The last and most difficult leg of the roadtrip comes just before New Year’s Day. Minnesota will face Wisconsin on the 28th, and Purdue on the 30th. The Badgers are ranked No. 21, while the Boilermakers are fourth and beat previously unbeatable (and unbeaten) Tennessee.