Gophers defeat Bradley, advance to semifinals of WBI

The Gophers scored a season-high 50 first-half points.

Betsy Helfand

 

With an 85-59 win Sunday against No. 3-seeded Bradley, the No. 2-seeded Gophers advanced to the semifinals of the Women’s Basketball Invitational.

The tournament is less prestigious than the Women’s National Invitation Tournament, which is a step below the NCAA tournament. It was Minnesota’s second game in the WBI, a 16-team single-elimination postseason tournament.

The Gophers’ first win was an 80-51 blowout against No. 7 seed Charleston Southern at Williams Arena on Friday.

Minnesota and Bradley swapped the lead for the first seven minutes of Sunday’s game before Minnesota scored eight unanswered points.

The Gophers continued to break the game wide open and held a 39-20 lead at halftime.

Head coach Pam Borton said she was very pleased with the team’s defense in the first half.

The team came out of the break sluggishly but recovered and never allowed Bradley back in the game.

Four players scored in double digits, and Rachel Banham had six points, which halted her double-digit point streak at 29 games.

The last time she scored fewer than 10 points was Nov. 20 against Binghamton.

Four of her points came on free throws, and she attempted just four field goals. She led the team with five assists.

“I think she took what she was given … and I thought she did a great job, made good decisions and got everybody else involved today,” Borton said.

 Her backcourt mate Kiara Buford led all players with 16 points.

 She was 8-for-8 at the free-throw line, all in the second half.

“In the first half, we only shot two [free throws], so I think that was a big emphasis. I wanted to make them count,” Buford said.

Buford scored her 1,500th career point in the game. She is one of just seven players to do so at Minnesota.

Guard Leah Cotton also pitched in 14 points. Nine of her points came from the free-throw line.

The team dished out 20 assists. It had averaged 10.9 team assists per game entering Sunday’s contest.

The Gophers scored 44 points in the paint to Bradley’s 22 and generated much of their offense from layups by post players.

Katie Loberg had 12 points on 6-for-9 shooting, and Micaella Riche, who started her fifth consecutive game, eclipsed her previous career-high of 14 points by scoring 15 points in just 14 minutes.

Riche started the game with six of the team’s first 12 points and finished the first half with 10 points on her way to shooting 6-for-8 for the game.

 She committed her fourth foul with 18 minutes, 31 seconds left in the game but still played sporadically throughout the second half before fouling out with 9:28 left in the game.

Minnesota scored 26 of its 46 second half points on free throws. It shot 85 percent at the line for the game.

“We only went to the line 17 times [in the first round] against Charleston Southern, and that’s not us,” Borton said. “In the second half, I was very pleased that we got to the line 31 times. That’s something we talked about at halftime.”

The Gophers shot a season-high 57.1 percent from the field and held Bradley to just less than 30-percent shooting.

The Gophers will host No. 8 seed Manhattan on Friday night at Williams Arena.

Manhattan defeated No. 1 Robert Morris and No. 4 Holy Cross 78-63 on Sunday to advance to the semifinals.