Win at Michigan gives women’s hoops 7-straight

by Aaron Blake

Holding onto hope for a share of the Big Ten regular season title but mostly just hoping to keep the impetus it has accumulated, Minnesota’s women’s basketball team opened a lead early and had an answer for every one of Michigan’s comeback attempts.

The 13th-ranked Gophers (23-4, 12-4 Big Ten) shut down the Wolverines’ offense in the first half and were step-for-step with it in the second half, defeating Michigan 76-63 Sunday in Ann Arbor.

“We knew we could finish with the first seed,” Gophers coach Pam Borton said. “But we just needed to take care of business and finish with 23 wins and great momentum.”

The 23 overall and 12 Big Ten wins are both NCAA-era bests for Minnesota. The team also carries a seven-game winning streak into postseason play.

The Gophers failed to win a piece of the conference title, though, as No. 15 Penn State defended its home court on Sunday against Wisconsin, claiming the title and the first seed in the Big Ten tournament.

Minnesota claimed the second seed in the tournament, holding the tie-breaker over third-seeded Purdue, who also finished 12-4 with a win over Iowa.

All-American Lindsay Whalen led Minnesota with 21 points and senior captain Corrin Von Wald added 18 on 4-of-5 three-point shooting.

Forcing 12 turnovers in the first half, the Gophers held the Wolverines (12-15, 3-13) scoreless for a span of 5:33 while a 13-0 run made the score 26-12.

Von Wald sank her first three three-point attempts and scored 13 points in the half to help build Minnesota leads as high as 15 points.

Michigan cut the lead to 31-24 at the break, using an 8-0 spurt in the final three minutes with Whalen and Janel McCarville on the bench with two fouls apiece.

The Wolverines would turn the ball over only twice in the second half and finally got their offense in motion.

Nonetheless, they could only trim the margin to five early, and the Gophers’ offense would score 45 points in the half to maintain a comfortable advantage throughout.

“I’m elated we finished the season the way we did,” Borton said. “A young team like this could have looked ahead. We knew we were in the NCAA tournament but did a good job of focusing on this one game.”

Aaron Blake covers women’s basketball and welcomes comments at [email protected]