U falls to Michigan in Big Ten tourney opener

Jim Schortemeyer

INDIANAPOLIS — After the Minnesota women’s basketball team upset Michigan 54-47 in January, Wolverines coach Sue Guevara was so upset that she called the loss the worst moment of her coaching career. With tears in her eyes, Guevara then got up to leave the press conference early — and promptly fell off the stage.
It isn’t a good thing when you lose to the Gophers.
Two months later, there would be no such miscues from Guevara or her team in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament, as the sixth-seeded Wolverines beat the 11th-seeded Gophers 74-55 in the first round.
It was a typical game for Minnesota: They kept it close for a while, they were killed on the boards and one player tried to carry the scoring burden.
That’s been the story for the last month, and the look on Coach Cheryl Littlejohn’s face during the game told the story.
“I’m disappointed with our effort, but a lot of good things come out of losses,” Littlejohn said.
The only positive for the Gophers was the apparent re-emergence of sophomore Theresa LeCuyer. LeCuyer came up with 22 points in her return to the starting lineup. She was the only Gopher to score in double figures.
Actually, Minnesota was lucky to be within 20 points at the finish. Michigan started the game with a 19-2 run and looked unbeatable early in the first half.
“The press was working really well and then I made some substitutions and it went downhill from there,” Guevara said.
The Gophers slowly clawed their way back into the game, thanks to LeCuyer’s hot hand. At halftime, the score was 35-28.
“The lead got to be seven and to be honest I was never really worried,” Guevara said. “I was more upset with the level of play after the substitutions.”
After drawing to within five at the start of the second half, the game went downhill again, but this time in favor of the Wolverines. Michigan started grabbing offensive rebounds, and picked up 21 points on second chances. Minnesota had just three second-chance points.
The loss didn’t sit well with LeCuyer.
“I saw a different Minnesota team in the first game (against Michigan),” LeCuyer said. “Michigan didn’t do anything we didn’t know they were capable of doing.”
Minnesota turned the ball over 22 times, and seemed to roll over for the Wolverines at the finish.
“They need to learn how to get mentally tough to win ballgames,” Littlejohn said of her team.
The Gophers finished the season with no player averaging 10 or more points. If senior Sonja Robinson had scored seven points, she would have averaged 10.0 for the season. But her shooting was frigid, so she focused on defense and did not score in the game.
“For me, I need to start shots inside and I did the opposite,” Robinson said. “But if I can go down and help the team on defense, I’m happy with that.”
The loss ended a senior campaign for Robinson that saw Minnesota finish 7-20 — its best finish in four seasons. Still, Littlejohn was clearly upset by the way her team went out.
“I hate it for Sonja because she deserves a lot more from this team,” Littlejohn said. “You could say, ‘Coach, you’re being hard on them,’ but I think they know they didn’t give their all tonight.”