Gophers quickly ushered out of Big Ten Tournament

Fifth-seeded Minnesota lost its first game in the Big Ten Tournament to twelfth-seeded Northwestern.

Kaitlin Merkel

INDIANAPOLIS – The Gophers chances for an NCAA tournament berth were potentially dashed on Thursday.

Minnesota lost its first game of the Big Ten tournament 84-74 to Northwestern, a team it had defeated twice in the regular season.

The fifth-seeded Gophers (19-11) came within one point of the twelfth-seeded Wildcats early in the fourth quarter but never took the lead.

Northwestern grabbed 54 rebounds in the game, which tied the record for second-most in Big Ten tournament history. The upset was also the first time a No. 12 seed defeated a No. 5 seed in the tournament.

“[Northwestern] played with great intensity,” Gophers head coach Marlene Stollings said. “They outrebounded us by 12, but the most crucial ones they got were in the last two-and-a-half minutes of the game. … Really, that was the piece. It was very deflating because we were working really hard at getting the stops.”

The Wildcats (17-15) had three players with over 10 rebounds, including junior guard Ashley Deary.

Redshirt senior guard Rachel Banham tied an NCAA record with 60 points the last time she played the Wildcats and she led the team with 26 on Thursday. In the game Banham surpassed 3,000 career points, becoming the first Big Ten player to do so.

Banham also led the Gophers in rebounds with eight. She shot 7-25 from the floor in the game and as a team Minnesota shot 36.1 percent.

“We actually got the same looks that we got last time against them,” Stollings said. “We would’ve liked to have shot a much higher percentage, certainly, but we were certainly pleased with the shots that we got.”

The Gophers struggled to defend the Wildcats from long range on the other end of the court, giving up nine three-pointers. Northwestern also recorded 19 offensive rebounds.

Minneapolis native Nia Coffey, whose younger brother Amir is committed to the Gophers men’s basketball team, scored 25 points and added 12 rebounds in the game.

“We didn’t want to give up nine three-point shots to them. It’s not necessarily their strength, but they were getting very good looks,” Stollings said. “We rectified that a little bit later down the stretch, but we were late to some of their shooters, in particular in the first half.”

With the odds of playing in her first NCAA tournament dwindling, Banham had little to say after the loss.

“It was just one of those games where [my shot] just wasn’t falling, so I was just trying to be aggressive and take inside shots,” Banham said. “I’m not happy.”

Minnesota will learn about its NCAA fate during the selection show on March 14. If the team is not selected it will likely have to settle for the National Invitation Tournament.

“We know that we have postseason in our future, absolutely,” Stollings said. “We’ll sit back and wait and see what that future entails, but we know that we’re going to be playing some postseason basketball, for sure.”