Utah’s hot shooting sinks Gophers in first home loss

With the Minnesota women’s basketball team’s usually strong bench and Utah’s generally weak one, it could be assumed that a battle of the Gophers’ bench-play against Utah’s strong starting lineup would decide the matchup.

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iowa state
what: Women’s basketball
when: 7 p.m., Fri., Dec. 21
where: Williams Arena

Instead, it became a battle of the starting fives, and both benches remained dormant all game long in Minnesota’s 54-66 loss to the Utes Saturday at Williams Arena.

The Gophers (8-3 overall, 0-0 Big Ten) received just four points from an ineffective bench, and as a result, kept their starters in an average of more than 32 minutes.

“That’s been one of our strengths all year,” coach Pam Borton said. “I thought Utah’s defense did a great job, but that still doesn’t excuse our execution.”

Minnesota began the game appearing to have a very physical mindset, appearing to try to overpower the smaller Utah squad. When the Gophers weren’t passing to a post in the paint, they were running the Utes’ guards off countless screens.

But Utah (6-3, 0-0 Mountain West) seemed unfazed, taking advantage of the ball being taken out of the hands of the Gophers’ talented guards. The Utes forced 11 turnovers in the first half and made the most of it, shooting a scalding 63 percent from the field to jump out to a lead as wide as 17 at one point.

Minnesota gave up several open looks, doubling on screens at the perimeter to leave one post player to guard two forwards.

When the Gophers went to a zone defense, Utah extended the perimeter, and dumped the ball through the many seams that were created.

“We were giving them some easy shots,” senior forward Leslie Knight said. “Our help and recover has to be a lot faster. We have to get back and guard the basket.”

With 4:30 left in the half, Minnesota switched back to man coverage, and collected three consecutive stops to help cut the lead to six at 28-34, but Utah surged in the last minutes, extending the lead to 30-39 at the half.

Junior guard Emily Fox led the Gophers with nine points, while sophomore forward Korinne Campbell continued her hot shooting to chip in eight.

For the first 15 minutes of the second half, both teams turned ice-cold. Minnesota climbed out of a hole to cut the lead to five, but never got closer than that.

When Utah knocked down three three-pointers in two minutes to go up 56-46 with 4:20 left, the game clearly was in the Utes’ control. Utah knocked down its free throws in the final minutes, sending Minnesota to its first home loss, 54-66.

“I think our defense kept us around in the second half,” Fox said. “But one thing that killed us is when we were down five and we didn’t score for five or six possessions. That was our opportunity to close it out, but we didn’t take advantage of it.”

Knight quietly put up 17 points to lead the Gophers, shooting 6-8 from the field. Fox added 14 points despite steady pressure from the Utes.

Off the bench, sophomore guard Katie Ohm was the only player to score, putting up four points while playing 21 minutes.

After the loss, Knight said the team needed to stop forcing themselves into comeback situations.

“Good teams don’t dig themselves 20-point holes,” Knight said. “We need to come out each half aggressive so we’re not clawing our way back each game.”