Gophers win 63-53 over South Carolina

Whalen reaches milestone

Adam Fink

Clinging to a six-point lead on national television with 1:29 remaining, Minnesota’s women’s basketball team needed some defensive stops Saturday afternoon.

Having struggled to defend South Carolina’s inside presence for most of the game, the sixth-ranked Gophers took over on the defensive end of the court to preserve a 63-53 win.

In the final 89 seconds, Minnesota forced three missed shots, fought for a loose ball and blocked a shot.

Six free throws – four by guard Lindsay Whalen, who entered an exclusive club earlier in the game – sealed the victory in front of 7,723 at Williams Arena and the national audience on CBS.

“I told them we needed four stops on defense,” Gophers coach Pam Borton said. “We found it deep within ourselves tonight.”

Whalen, once again, was brilliant. The senior scored 24 points and added six assists to become the fifth player in NCAA women’s history to score 2,000 career points and notch 500 assists.

Whalen’s three-point play with 8:27 remaining gave her the mark, only the third player in school history to reach the 2,000 point plateau.

“I can look back on it,” Whalen said. “It’s a nice accomplishment to see you only did what only four others have done.”

Although the Gophers (12-0, 1-0 Big Ten) held a 10-point lead entering the second stanza, the team struggled in the final 20 minutes.

The Gamecocks (8-3) switched to a zone defense, which slowed the pace of the game.

In addition, South Carolina implemented a full court press.

“There were times I thought we got careless with the ball,” Whalen said. “The pressure may have got to us.”

While 6-foot-4 center Iva Sliskovic was controlling the paint to the tune of 15 points, Minnesota’s Shannon Bolden was putting the clamps on Gamecocks leading scorer Cristina Ciocan.

Ciocan finished the game with eight points, despite entering the contest averaging 16.1 points per game.

“She didn’t handle pressure too well,” Bolden said. “I knew she could shoot the three so I wanted to stay close.”

Center Janel McCarville made a baseline jumper with 3:10 left, a shot that some familiar with the team know is not out of her range.

“I got range on my shot,” said McCarville, who added another solid all-around performance with 18 points, nine rebounds, a career-high six steals and four blocks.

The basket gave the Gophers an eight point lead and, following a Sliskovic lay-up, set up the final minutes.

Despite the break between Big Ten games, Minnesota players were happy for the win – and for a close contest.

The 10-point win was the Gophers closest contest of the season, in terms of final score.

And Minnesota’s defense, which did allow South Carolina to shoot 48 percent because of all the shots from the post, didn’t allow an opponent to score more than 55 points for the sixth straight game.

With the close game, the Gophers feel more prepared for when they return to Big Ten action Jan 6 at Northwestern.

“It showed in the last three minutes (that we were fatigued),” Borton said. “But we found it deep within ourselves to win.”

Gophers men play Sunday

With two losses in the past week, the Gophers men’s basketball team returns to action Sunday against Wofford in its final tune up before the Big Ten season begins.

Minnesota is coming off a 90-73 loss at Virginia Tech on New Years Day, the team’s second consecutive 17-point loss.

The game begins at 1:00 from Williams Arena.