Without Buford, Gophers cobble together scoring

Without Buford, Gophers cobble together scoring

John Hageman

Coming off a game in which they gave up 23 turnovers and won largely despite themselves, the Gophers were in need of a solid and clean performance Sunday night.

ThatâÄôs just what they got in a 66-52 win over Cal Poly at Williams Arena in front of a sparse crowd of 2,537 âÄî even without their leading scorer.

After fighting back and forth for much of the first 29 minutes, the Gophers (7-4) broke through with a 3-pointer from China Antoine with about 11 minutes left in the game to lead by seven, their largest of the night to that point.

The Gophers fought off a feisty Cal Poly (2-5) team and its multiple full-court presses thanks to consistent free throw shooting and a disciplined performance.

Minnesota pulled out the victory without leading scorer Kiara Buford, who twisted her ankle on a teammateâÄôs foot in the last play of practice Saturday, and will “hopefully” return for TuesdayâÄôs trip to Alabama A&M.

Buford had been perhaps the GophersâÄô most reliable scoring threat, but with her out, Minnesota had six players with at least seven points.

âÄúI was really proud of our team for finding a way to win this basketball game,âÄù Minnesota head coach Pam Borton said. âÄúEverybody stepped up on our team and did just a little bit extra âĦ thatâÄôs a hard void to fill if you can fill it at all.âÄù

Sophomore Leah Cotton, who was the teamâÄôs second-leading scorer despite coming off the bench, got the start for Buford, and tallied a team-high 17 points.

The Gophers started off the game by scoring on five of their first seven possessions. But Cal Poly was equally hot and stuck around as the teams exchanged leads 15 times in the first half.

Minnesota finally ended the game of hot potato with a pair of free throws and a lay-in on the ensuing possession from sophomore Katie Loberg to go ahead by five with a little more than three minutes left, the largest lead for either team in the first half.

While the Gophers hit just one of nine 3-point attempts in the first half, Cal Poly was 6-for-12, including one at the buzzer to cut the deficit to 35-33. Despite being out-rebounded 23 to 10 in the first half, the Mustangs kept pace thanks to their accuracy from the 3-point line.

But they fell off in the second half, making just two of 10 from beyond the arc and never regained the lead.

Loberg made her first appearance after a minor Achilles injury kept her out of the last two games and scored eight points while providing a much-needed defensive presence down low. She finished with a career-high four blocks in 16 minutes off the bench.

The Gophers went into ThursdayâÄôs win over Southern with the Big TenâÄôs second-worst turnover margin at minus-4, and didnâÄôt do anything to help that statistic with 23 turnovers. But the Gophers cleaned up those mistakes somewhat Sunday, committing just 15.

âÄúI thought we did a great job taking care of the basketball,âÄù Borton said. âÄúI definitely saw more fight and more effort from our players.âÄù