Season ends with abrupt Big Ten tournament exit

Senior China Antoine scored a team-high 18 points; the rest of the team shot 8-for-46.

A disappointing season came to a disappointing end for the womenâÄôs basketball team Thursday as it lost its first matchup in the Big Ten Tournament to Northwestern, 53-44.

The Gophers ended the season 12-18 overall, the teamâÄôs worst finish in nine years under head coach Pam Borton, and the programâÄôs worst mark overall since going 8-20 in the 2000-01 season.

Minnesota came in to the game against Northwestern with plenty of confidence after winning a double-overtime game at Michigan and playing toe-to-toe with No. 8 Michigan State the week before. However, the Gophers never reached that level of play against the Wildcats, barely shooting 25 percent as a team. Only three players sunk more than one shot from the floor.

âÄúI thought it was obviously a battle of defenses tonight,âÄù head coach Pam Borton said.

This will be the second consecutive year the team has missed the NCAA tournament after making it six out of seven times to start BortonâÄôs tenure, which included two Sweet 16 appearances and a trip to the Final Four. It is also the fourth consecutive year the team has lost its first game in the Big Ten tournament.

Kiara Buford, the teamâÄôs leading scorer for the past two seasons, had one of her worst games as a Gopher, scoring just five points on 2-of-8 shooting. Sophomore forward Katie Loberg, coming off a 19-point effort against Michigan State, shot just 1-of-12 from the floor with six turnovers. Junior Jackie Voigt made just 1-of-10 from the field, bringing the trio to 4-of-30 overall.

âÄúThey were getting good shots,âÄù Borton said, âÄúbut they werenâÄôt falling tonight.âÄù

Senior China Antoine was one of few bright spots for Minnesota, scoring 18 points in her last game with the Gophers.

âÄúI think we had some nervous jitters coming out from the beginning,âÄù Antoine said after the game. âÄúWe were rushing and throwing sloppy passes and not taking the best shots.âÄù

Borton said before the game that Antoine would have to perform well if Minnesota expected to make a run in the Big Ten tourney, though the senior point guard could have used a bit more help. The rest of the team shot a combined 8-for-46 from the floor.

The loss brings the GophersâÄô tough season to an end, but a new season always holds opportunities for improvement. Minnesota will lose only one starter next year and return five of its top six scorers, as well as the team leaders in rebounding and blocks.

Kionna Kellogg, named to this yearâÄôs All-Big Ten freshman team, will look to build on a promising rookie campaign. She found her way into the starting lineup permanently halfway through the season thanks to her rebounding and defensive prowess, which peaked with an 8-point, 15-rebound game Jan. 27 against Northwestern.

With this season now behind them, Borton and her staff look ahead to improving the program over the summer and trying to make this seasonâÄôs trials and tribulations a launching pad for future success.