IOWA CITY, Iowa – Minnesota’s women’s basketball team needed about 30 minutes in Iowa City, but the high-scoring Gophers ultimately remembered to rely on their defense late in a tight game.
Battling the Hawkeyes in a fashion Bobby Fischer would love, the Gophers held Iowa without a field goal for the final 9:12 for a 77-60 win on Thursday.
Minnesota won its third-straight game on the road and fourth-straight overall.
“For the sixth time in six games, I have to give credit to the defense,” Gophers coach Pam Borton said. “We did a great job with ball pressure and really turned up the intensity.”
With the victory, Minnesota (20-4, 9-4 Big Ten) has won 20 games in two consecutive years for the first time in program history. The Gophers also gained sole possession of third place in the Big Ten with Michigan State losing at Purdue on Thursday.
All-American Lindsay Whalen paced the Gophers with a strong all-around performance: 24 points, nine assists and five steals.
Sophomore center Janel McCarville weathered early foul trouble to score 22 points and grab 10 rebounds.
There was little room to breathe for either team in the first half as neither led by more than the Gophers’ initial 7-0 margin. Minnesota took a 36-35 lead into the locker room.
Whalen surged just before the half, ringing up 11 points, five assists and a pair of steals.
Several of Minnesota’s starters got into foul trouble early. Kadidja Andersson had three fouls, while Corrin Von Wald and McCarville missed most of the first half after two quick fouls. The Gophers’ starting front line played only 28 of a possible 60 minutes.
McCarville would not be short-changed in the second half. Playing the entire 20 minutes, she scored 18 of her 22 points and grabbed seven of her 10 rebounds.
“When I’m sitting out I get bored,” McCarville said matter-of-factly. “You don’t do much on the bench, so you’ve got to go out there and prove yourself when you can.”
McCarville made all eight of her field goal attempts, finding herself on the receiving end of some solid passes.
The Gophers stretched their lead out to seven again midway through the second half at 55-48.
After a Jennifer Lillis jumper brought the Hawkeyes within four with 9:12 to play, the Gophers used their defense to go on an 8-0 run. Leading for the first time by double digits, Minnesota held on to the advantage with steals and defensive rebounds.
“Minnesota’s defense was very good,” Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said. “Good teams buckle down at the end of games, and they did that.”
Bluder’s squad was led by Lillis with 22 points. Lillis and Kristi Faulkner, who scored 20, accounted for more than two-thirds of the Hawkeyes offense, but Borton’s defensive scheme shut them down late.
Minnesota looks to bring the same defensive success into Sunday’s game, playing host to Big Ten-leading Penn State (22-6, 12-2) at Williams Arena.
The Lions, led by Big Ten leading scorer Kelly Mazzante, waxed the Gophers 83-53 in Happy Valley on Jan. 6.
The loss was Minnesota’s first of the season. A loss Sunday would put the Gophers out of contention for the Big Ten regular season title.
Aaron Blake covers women’s basketball and welcomes comments at [email protected]