U women’s hoops loses two at home

by Ryan Schuster

Gophers women’s basketball coach Cheryl Littlejohn paced the sidelines impatiently during the second half of Minnesota’s 67-54 loss to No. 17 Wisconsin on Sunday afternoon at the Sports Pavilion.
No matter what Littlejohn said to her players or what they did on the floor, the Gophers could not escape their fourth loss in as many games.
Just like they did in Friday’s 70-55 loss to Penn State, the Gophers jumped out to a substantial lead in the beginning of the game, only to fall apart and lose big in the end.
Minnesota started Sunday’s game with an intensity that had been noticeably absent from the team’s play for the last two weeks.
The Gophers ran out to a 12-4 lead by the 11:53 mark of the first half on the strength of eight straight points by sophomore guard Kiauna Burns. But like they have all season, the Gophers were unable to put together a complete, 40-minute game and suffered their fourth consecutive defeat.
“Every game we do this,” Freshman forward Theresa LeCuyer said. “We have a good stretch where we play very well, and then two minutes can kill us. We were up 12-4 and we had intensity, we had confidence, and for some reason we just let up and they came back.”
Wisconsin responded by going on a 28-11 run in the next 12 minutes to take a 32-23 halftime lead. The Badgers picked up where they left off in the second half and cruised to an easy double-digit victory in front of 1,825 people at the Sports Pavilion.
“We started the first six or seven minutes the way we wanted to carry out the whole game,” Littlejohn said. “After we made a couple of substitutions and they put on the press, it kind of took the wind out of us. I thought that even being down at the half that we had a chance to come back.”
After Minnesota’s initial push fell by the wayside, the Badgers scored seemingly at will and even abandoned their original game plan because they were doing so well without it.
“We actually wanted to get the ball inside,” Wisconsin coach Jane Albright-Dieterle said. “They are a little smaller than we are, and we wanted to capitalize on our size advantage. But, our guards were hot and made good decisions.”
Four Wisconsin players scored in double figures in the game, compared to only two Gophers. While the Badgers spread the ball around well on offense, Minnesota had a hard time getting balanced scoring.
Burns and LeCuyer combined to go 14 of 20 from the field on Sunday, while the rest of the Gophers went an anemic 5 of 31. Two games after being benched by Littlejohn for sub-par play, Burns had 16 first-half points and led all scorers with a career-high 25.
LeCuyer, meanwhile had 12 of her 14 points in the second half, almost single-handedly carrying the team’s offensive load.
Leading scorer Angie Iverson struggled for her second consecutive game, scoring only four points and grabbing just one rebound, while committing three fouls and having two turnovers in just 18 minutes of play. The rest of Iverson’s teammates didn’t fare much better.
“This is a 13-point game and you miss seven free throws and at least 10 layups,” Littlejohn said. “We did not finish. That’s a part of execution. We missed a lot of easy shots and layups.”
Sunday’s win was Wisconsin’s first on the road this season, snapping a 0-4 start in Big Ten road games.
Like the Badgers, Penn State took advantage of the Gophers to end a personal losing skid.
The Lions limped into Minneapolis on Friday having lost to three nationally ranked opponents in a six-day span, but left with a 15-point victory over the last place Gophers.
Minnesota jumped out to an early 6-3 lead in the first two minutes of the game, but fell apart just as quickly. Penn State came right back, going on a 16-2 run in the next seven minutes to take a 14-8 lead midway through the first half. The Gophers pulled to within three points several times, but would get no closer.
After Minnesota ended the first half with six straight points, the Lions went on a 10-4 run in the first three and a half minutes of the second half to take a commanding 38-27 lead and put the game away for good.
An undersized Minnesota team had no answer for the Lions’ inside game on offense or defense.
“We didn’t get a lot of looks and touches inside,” said senior center Iverson, who had a career-low one rebound and three fouls in only 16 minutes. “Their offensive rebounding killed us.”
With each passing loss, it becomes a little tougher for the players on the last-place team to maintain their confidence and keep thinking positively.
“We can’t let down and get down on ourselves because we’ve been losing,” LeCuyer said. “That’s the worst thing that could happen to us. We’ve just got to maintain and keep our focus. One of these games we’re going to come out with a victory.”