One lap to go for Gophers in Indy

Minnesota upset top seed Ohio State 66-63 Sunday to advance to tonight’s title game.

David McCoy

INDIANAPOLIS – Minnesota women’s basketball coach Pam Borton said her team would be “absolutely crazy” if it did not use its Final Four experience last year to its advantage this postseason.

Well, the Gophers listened, and now they are experiencing something they didn’t even accomplish last year.

Minnesota will play Michigan State for the Big Ten Tournament championship tonight at Conseco Fieldhouse. The Gophers knocked off back-to-back defending champion Purdue 71-68 Friday in the quarterfinals and top-seeded and third-ranked Ohio State 66-63 in overtime Sunday in the semifinals.

Before this weekend, the Gophers (24-6) had never even won a quarterfinal game and were 2-11 all-time in the tournament.

“After Friday, we had a lot of confidence coming into this game,” center Janel McCarville said after Sunday’s victory. “This is a huge step, getting to the championship game, and it just goes to show how far we’ve come in the last couple years.”

After Ohio State’s Big Ten player of the year Jessica Davenport burned Minnesota for 35 points Feb. 17 in Columbus, Ohio, McCarville held the sophomore stud to just 12 points on 5-of-13 shooting Sunday.

Offensively, McCarville and forward Jamie Broback were an unstoppable duo during the two games. Broback scored 28 points Friday and 24 Sunday, while McCarville scored 22 and 21, respectively.

“Right know, we’re just looking for mismatches,” Broback said. “We’re looking for whatever we can produce, whether it be from guards or posts.”

In one of its closest games of the season Friday, Minnesota never led by more than six, and Purdue never led by more than five as the game came down to the final few minutes.

After Purdue took a 65-60 lead with less than three minutes left, Minnesota prevailed by piecing together a 9-0 run and watching Katie Gearlds’ three-pointer at the buzzer hit the rim and bounce out.

On Sunday, a 9-0 Buckeyes run midway through the first half put them up 18-8.

But after the return of McCarville, who went to the bench with a twisted ankle, and Broback, who committed two early fouls, Minnesota came back with a 10-1 run to tie the game 25-25.

Ohio State regained a 30-27 lead at halftime and trailed only briefly until there was 41.9 seconds left in the game and McCarville scored from the paint to tie the game 56-56.

Broback and McCarville then teamed up to build a 64-59 lead for Minnesota with less than two minutes left in overtime.

Ohio State came within 64-63 but was forced to foul Kelly Roysland with 12.1 seconds left after an offensive rebound.

The sharp-shooting guard hit both free throws to give Minnesota a 66-63 lead, and Davenport missed a last-second three-pointer to give the Gophers reason to flood the court.

But Minnesota knows it can’t sit around and relish the win for too long. A win today would be the Gophers’ second in two days over a top-10 team, which would do a great service for their NCAA seeding, along with the whole Big Ten title thing.

“I don’t think anybody felt we would win but ourselves,” Borton said. “But we’ll get excited after we win tomorrow.”