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Minnesota falls in the first round of NCAA tournament

The team ended its season against DePaul in a loss on Friday in Indiana.

Throughout its unpredictable season, Minnesota has never shied away from talking about the NCAA tournament.

The Gophers reached that goal, but they quickly exited the tournament with a first-round loss on Friday, falling to DePaul 79-72 in South Bend, Ind.

“We said we’d make the tournament, and that’s what we did. Even though it’s my first and last time, I’m proud to be a part of a team that fought so hard all year,” senior forward Shae Kelley said at a press conference.

The Gophers owned a 15-point lead with just more than 15 minutes to play, but a late collapse doomed them.

“It really is a game of runs,” head coach Marlene Stollings said at the press conference. “Our lead was something we would have liked to have built upon. But we knew that they were a team that [was] going to make a run at some point, and that run continued on for most of the half once they got in their groove.”

After DePaul fought back to tie the game at 51, the Gophers never regained the lead.

One reason for Minnesota’s lackluster performance was its 28 turnovers.

DePaul threw a full-court press on Minnesota throughout the entire game, but the Gophers seemed more fazed in the second half.

“I think that we stopped taking care of the ball,” Kelley said. “That’s what got their momentum up in the second half. We saw [the full-court press] in the first half. But it wasn’t so much them — it was our turnovers.”

No one on the Gophers’ roster had played in the NCAA tournament before Friday, and that inexperience shined through in the second half.

While Minnesota was one of the most inexperienced teams in the tournament, that wasn’t the case for DePaul — Friday’s game marked its 13th consecutive NCAA tournament appearance.

“I think [their experience] absolutely played a role,” Stollings said. “Coach [Doug] Bruno is respected nationally by all of us coaches, so I think they are used to this environment.”

And with experience comes knowledge.

Though DePaul had yet to face Minnesota this season, their game plan suggested otherwise.

Containing Amanda Zahui B. was a point of emphasis for DePaul.

Before the game, the redshirt sophomore was named one of four finalists for the Naismith Women’s College Player of the Year Trophy.

Zahui B. finished with a team-high 21 points and grabbed 22 rebounds, though she was subjected to double and even triple teams throughout the game.

“They played good defense; there were always some people on me. I scored in the ways I could,” Zahui B. said at the press conference.

Though the Gophers’ season ended with the first-round loss, they were positive about the season’s outcome, especially after losing Rachel Banham to a knee injury.

“We never stopped fighting. We had our main player go down, and everybody really stepped up. We have some real fighters, some warriors out there,” Zahui B. said. “We’re a young team, but I feel like we accomplished a lot. We set high goals, and I’m very proud of ourteam.” 

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