Gophers ride ‘Knight’ train in big upset

Senior guard Leslie Knight scored 33 and pulled down eight boards for the win.

Before Thursday night’s game, sophomore center Ashley Ellis-Milan said the Minnesota women’s basketball team felt like they were 6-1, the same record of the conference leaders, the 15th-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes.

The Gophers (14-6 overall, 5-3 Big Ten) proved that they were capable of playing with anyone in the conference, putting together a strong offensive showing to upset Ohio State at Williams Arena with a convincing 79-70 win.

“This was a great win for our team and one we needed,” coach Pam Borton said. “Leslie Knight was unbelievable tonight, and I thought it was a great team effort.”

Both teams came out of the gate shooting well, but it was Ohio State (15-4, 6-2) that held a steady lead through the first 10 minutes of the game.

Buckeyes’ junior guard Ashley Trebilcock benefited early from Minnesota’s collapsing defense, scoring all nine of her first-half points on open looks in the first few minutes.

Freshman center Jantel Lavender presented a problem for the Gophers, as Minnesota didn’t front the 6-foot-4-inch post, allowing her to catch the ball in the paint which forced the Gophers to double or allow an easy basket. The double-team made for several kick-outs, sending Minnesota scrambling.

But the Gophers held up against the strong Ohio State offense, forcing nine turnovers in the first half, and putting on some pressure with their offense.

Senior forward Leslie Knight jumpstarted Minnesota’s offense as she scored 16 first-half points including a run of 11 consecutive points to hand the Gophers their first lead of the game at 18-16 with 9:40 remaining at the end of the first half.

Knight worked well with junior guard Emily Fox, allowing her to clear out the extra defender before Knight began her post moves.

“I know Emily is going to get me the ball even though sometimes I don’t know how,” Knight joked. “But I think that playing together a lot helps us to play well as a unit on the court.”

Minnesota added to that by shutting down Ohio State late in the half, as sophomore center Zoe Harper came off the bench for 10 minutes and kept Lavender out of the paint and off the scoreboard.

Sophomore guard Brittany McCoy reconciled an off-night offensively by holding one of the Buckeyes’ top offensive threats in senior guard Marscilla Packer to three points on 1-6 shooting. The defensive effort led to a 33-27 Minnesota lead at the half.

The Gophers continued to play well and opened up a 14-point lead early in the second half, but cooled off to allow the Buckeyes to tie the game at 50 with 9:45 remaining in the game.

Minnesota battled to hold onto the lead until McCoy continued to redeem herself, knocking down a three-pointer to help the Gophers re-establish a somewhat stable lead at 61-55 with 6:26 left.

McCoy’s confidence in hitting that shot was impressive, as the guard had gone 0-8 from the floor up to that point

“It was tough in the first half, but the two shots I hit late in the game boosted my confidence,” she said. “It wasn’t really my shot, but they were leaving me open so I took it.”

McCoy knocked down another jumper later in the half, and the Gophers rode Knight’s final seven points of a career-high 33-point night, finishing off the Buckeyes with a 79-70 victory.

Knight led all scorers and led the Gophers with eight rebounds as well. Fox added a quiet 16 points, while Ellis-Milan had a strong second half to finish with 12 points. Minnesota shot 49.2 percent from the field and hit five of seven three-point attempts.

Fox said the game was a huge boost as the team prepares to face Michigan State Sunday.

“We’re so excited right now,” she said. “We’re going to take today to enjoy this, but we have a big game on Sunday, and hopefully we can use this confidence there.”