After 1st-half struggle, Gophers rally to defeat Illini 77-62

Aaron Blake

.

The Gophers (13-1, 2-1 Big Ten) struggled offensively in the first half before rallying behind Big Ten Player of the Year Lindsay Whalen and Freshman of the Year Janel McCarville to defeat the Illini 77-62 in front of 6,049 at Williams Arena.

“On the court, it was the same thing that happened at Penn State,” Whalen said. “We didn’t hit our first few open shots, so we had to buckle down on defense.

“Unlike at Penn State, our team showed an unbelievable amount of character in the first half and came out and took charge in the second half.”

Whalen couldn’t find her shot early, scoring just six points on 1-for-4 shooting. But she rallied in the second half to record her sixth career double-double with 21 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists.

McCarville came off the bench to score 23 points-15 in the second half-and bring down nine rebounds.

“The whole plan before the game was to get the ball inside,” Gophers coach Pam Borton said. “We didn’t think there was any way they could guard our post players.”

Though Minnesota came out strong in the second half behind center McCarville, the Illini (10-3, 2-1) had an answer for nearly every basket early. A 13-0 run that turned a 46-40 deficit into a 53-46 lead gave the Gophers all the advantage they would need to win.

Minnesota came out sluggish in the first half, as junior Kadidja Andersson recorded the first Gopher points nearly five minutes into the contest with Illinois already having built an 8-0 lead.

The Illini also held Whalen scoreless for 13 minutes before she scored six of Minnesota’s final ten points to reduce the lead from 23-14 to 30-26 at the half.

After trading scores with Illinois early in the second half, Minnesota went on the 13-0 run and held onto the lead with its hot-shooting offense, which is ranked third nationally. The Gophers scored 51 second-half points after being held to 30 or fewer points for three straight halves.

Cindy Dallas led Illinois with 17 points in the losing effort.

Minnesota plays host to Iowa next Sunday at noon.