Minn. closes up-and-down break with loss

Moving China Antoine into the starting lineup has improved the offense.

Aleutian Calabay

Two steps forward and one step back is the way things have gone for the Minnesota womenâÄôs basketball team to start the conference season. Taking the good with the bad, the Gophers have found themselves squarely in fourth place in the Big Ten. The Gophers kicked off their early conference schedule with a 56-48 win over Penn State. Minnesota switched back to nonconference foes but continued to play at a high level by dominating Idaho State 79-44. Minnesota, however, was not able to continue its positive momentum, falling 77-60 at home to a tough Iowa State team. With the Gophers scoring production being sketchy at best up to this point in the season, head coach Pam Borton decided it was time for a change, pulling senior captain Katie Ohm out of the starting lineup and inserting junior transfer China Antoine. âÄúShe [Antoine] has been one of our most important players to this point because she does everything,âÄù Borton said. âÄúShe scores, she defends, she rebounds and she dictates the tempo we play.âÄù The Gophers offense immediately responded with Antoine in the starting lineup as they crushed Santa Clara 91-51. It began to look as if Minnesota was about to turn the corner on its offensive production until the Big Ten season got back into gear. The women had an abysmal game at Purdue. The Gophers did not make a field goal until more than 10 minutes into the game, shooting just .291 percent as they fell 51-43 to the Boilermakers. Minnesota bounced right back from that loss by starting the new year with a late comeback victory over Iowa, winning 72-69 in overtime. The Gophers continued their trend of being a better second-half team as they overcame a 37-21 deficit Jan. 7 against Northwestern to come back to win 73-65. The Gophers jumped out to a 34-25 halftime lead at Illinois a few days later, but this time it was Minnesota falling late in the game, suffering a tough 64-62 loss to the Illini. Once again responding positively after a loss, the Gophers played one of their best games so far this season as they avenged their loss to Purdue. Minnesota continually built a lead throughout the game, out-playing the Boilermakers on both ends of the court as they went on to win 74-47. Antoine has averaged 14.3 points per game during her six games as a starter. Her offensive production has greatly improved the Gophers shooting, which was cold early in the year. Throwing out the terrible shooting night in the first game against Purdue, Minnesota has shot 45 percent from the field with Antoine starting. With the combination of Antoine and senior Brittany McCoy handling the ball âÄî and the Gophers playing solid defense all season long âÄî the team leads the Big Ten in turnover margin at plus-4.35 per game. âÄúWeâÄôve been getting offense from our defense,âÄù sophomore Kiara Buford said. âÄúOur defense has been great at creating turnovers and looking forward for scoring at the other end.âÄù Unfortunately for the Gophers, they suffered yet another heartbreaking loss on the road to end the holiday break, as they fell 61-60 to Northwestern with Antoine out nursing a knee injury she suffered during last SaturdayâÄôs practice. Minnesota fell behind 28-20 in the first half. The Gophers had a difficult time getting shots to fall, but managed to cut their deficit to 1 with an 11-4 run to end the half. The lead bounced back and forth in the second half, but a jumper by junior Jackie Voigt put Minnesota up 60-57 with less than two minutes to go. But four straight free throws by Northwestern sophomore Brittany Orban gave the Wildcats a 1-point lead with four seconds remaining. Buford missed the possible game-winning jumper as time expired. âÄúWe need to learn how to finish games,âÄù McCoy said. âÄúWeâÄôve been right in our road losses to the end, and we just need to capitalize on our opportunities to win.âÄù The Gophers now move on to face Michigan State at 2 p.m. next Sunday at Williams Arena.