U comeback falls short, 66-58

Sarah Mitchell

The Gophers women’s basketball team has already collected more tallies in the win column than all of last season, but its rise from the bottom of the Big Ten standings looks to be at least another year away.
Minnesota (5-9 overall, 0-4 in the Big Ten) has not won a league contest since the halfway point of last season, an eight-point win over Michigan State. On Tuesday night at the Sports Pavilion, Iowa (7-7, 2-1) proved to be another stumble in conference play.
“I’m frustrated for them because I see people working hard at practice,” said Gophers coach Cheryl Littlejohn of the 66-58 loss. “But that’s a good thing.”
Playing its fourth Big Ten game of the season, it was Minnesota’s shooting game that failed. With barely four minutes run off the clock, the Gophers found themselves scoreless at 10-0 with five team fouls and sorely in need of a time out.
The words spoken in the huddled were apparently not stirring enough, however. A tight Hawkeye defense — one that constantly switched from man-to-man to zone — caused Minnesota to fight to push the ball up court and often forced the home team to put up desperation shots as time dwindled off the shot clock.
Thanks in part to a 22.6 percent shooting percentage, the Gophers went to the locker room trailing 31-17. Senior forward Sonja Robinson and freshman forward Jackie Tate led Gophers scorers with four points a piece.
“I don’t think it was their defense that frustrated us,” said junior guard Brandi Harris of Minnesota’s first-half performance. “It was our execution.”
A seemingly new Gophers team took to the court in the second half. Aggressive defense from freshman point guard Cassie VanderHeyden, who recorded three of her four game steals in the second half, and seven points from Harris, who was silenced during the first half, sparked a Minnesota comeback.
After the game Littlejohn said that her team would be more successful if only they could, “bottle up (VanderHeyden and Harris) and give it to everybody to drink … we’ll be all right.”
Although the awakening of VanderHeyden and Harris never got the Gophers closer than seven points in the second half, Hawkeye coach Angie Lee was frustrated by her team’s lack of intensity.
“I really think we played 20 minutes of basketball again and the other twenty minutes we just weren’t there,” said Lee, who earned her 70th career victory at Iowa.
The Gophers hit the road for their next Big Ten game when they travel to Michigan on Jan. 10. Even if the rebuilding Gophers continue their conference skid, Lee said it will only be temporary.
“There is really a change starting,” said Lee of Minnesota’s program. “And I can see it.”