Women pick up a split at tourney

Mark Heller

Sunday’s Minnesota women’s basketball game looked like dÇjÖvu from Saturday — and the past several years.
The Gophers scratched and clawed in the opening-round game against Ball State on Saturday just to stay close at halftime. They hung around for a few minutes in the second half, then fell apart on both ends of the floor and never recovered in a 79-70 loss.
In Sunday’s 60-57 win over Georgetown, the Gophers (1-1) scrambled to stay even with Georgetown, down 30-29 at halftime.
It was beginning to look a lot like Saturday’s game when Minnesota stuck around to open the second half, taking a 35-32 lead on senior Erin Olson’s layup.
In the next seven-plus minutes, the only offensive stats the Gophers accumulated was nine turnovers and three missed shots. But the Hoyas (0-2) turned Minnesota’s self-chaos into a meager seven-point lead.
“We had four or five possessions we could have increased that lead, and we didn’t,” Hoyas coach Patrick Knapp said.
It eventually cost them.
A three-pointer from Minnesota freshman Lindsay Lieser ended the seven-minute goose egg, but the Hoyas answered with a 5-0 run increase their lead to 55-44.
If this was Saturday’s game, or a Gophers team of the past, this game would have been over.
Not this time. For the last five minutes, Minnesota went on a 16-2 run to win the game in a flurry. Two free throws by Lieser, four free throws by Olson, two Georgetown turnovers from Minnesota’s full-court press and two missed three-pointers in the last 30 seconds sealed it.
“Our defense kept us in it,” Olson said. “We couldn’t put the ball in the hole. Our bench gave us a spark. Even at halftime we felt it was our game and we thought we had the advantage.”
Olson and freshman Trish McGhee comprised the Minnesota bench this weekend. On Sunday, the two combined for 25 points, 10 more than all of Georgetown’s bench. On Saturday the pair had 20 of the team’s 22 bench points.
Lieser, a fire-shooting freshman from New London, Minn., was razor-sharp. Her 17 points led the Gophers on Sunday, going 4-for-7 from behind the arc. She had 23 against Ball State on Saturday, going 7-for-12 from downtown.
Speaking of offense, the Hoyas’ All-America candidate Katie Smrcka-Duffy had just eight points on 3-for-11 shooting. Smrcka-Duffy averaged 20 points per game last season.
“If everybody in (the journalism profession) ran around trying to keep the pen out of your hand you wouldn’t write very much,” Knapp said. “Everybody keeps running around trying the keep the ball out of her hands, and our other players have to step. She’s not always going to get 15 or 18 shots.”
Smrcka-Duffy wasn’t the only Hoya to shoot bricks. Georgetown’s starting five shot a collective 15-51 from the field and the team shot 34 percent for the game. This despite taking 14 more shots than the Gophers.
Whatever defensive adjustments the Gophers made after Saturday’s game eventually worked on Sunday. Minnesota had a lot to work on after the Cardinals outscored Minnesota 52-37 in the second half, after the Gophers were close at halftime.
“I was definitely disappointed in our lack of execution on defense,” Gophers coach Cheryl Littlejohn said. “(Defense) is what you pride yourself on.”
That defense and the bench-play salvaged Minnesota’s weekend. The play of the freshmen, especially McGhee and Lieser offensively, might be new to Minnesota fans, but probably not for long.
“I love it,” the 5-foot-6 freshman McGhee said about her abundant playing time. “If (Littlejohn) puts me at center, I’ll do it.”
“I don’t think so,” replied Olson.

Mark Heller covers women’s basketball and welcomes comments at [email protected]