Gophers win final home game of season

Minnesota still has a shot at one of two first-round byes in the upcoming Big Ten tournament.

Paul Cordes

It wasn’t always pretty, but the Minnesota women’s basketball team got the job done Thursday night against Michigan to win its final home game of the year.

Though the Gophers struggled at times, leadership and clutch scoring showed up in time to give Minnesota the 66-53 victory in front of 6,222 people at Williams Arena.

Coach Pam Borton said there were some things her team could have done better but she’d take the victory.

“A win’s a win this time of year,” she said. “I thought we played hard and took care of the ball, but we have to play a lot better against Michigan State this Sunday.”

In an uncharacteristic manner, the Gophers, statistically the best offensive rebounding team in the Big Ten, lost the battle for offensive boards 18-14.

Freshman center Ashley Ellis-Milan had a tough night, going 0-for-7 from the field, which put extra pressure on Minnesota’s guards, and they responded.

Sophomore guard Emily Fox and freshman guard Brittany McCoy stole the show as Fox scored 14 points and McCoy tied her career high with 16 points.

It was the second straight game McCoy scored 16 points, and she said she is becoming more comfortable with the basketball.

“I think my confidence has gotten better in the last couple of games I’ve had,” she said. “I didn’t play much the first half, and I knew I had to come out in the second half and step it up.”

And that she did. She had 14 second-half points as she went 6-of-9 from the floor and added a pair of free throws as well.

“(McCoy) added a little bit of a spark for us there in the second half,” Borton said.

Freshman center Zoe Harper also came out in the second half looking to make a statement.

With Ellis-Milan struggling, Harper put in a solid 10 minutes of play, scoring six points and pulling down five rebounds before fouling out.

The 6-foot-3 Harper matched up well with Michigan’s bigger centers and also made several nice defensive plays on the night.

Harper said she feels more comfortable playing against opponents more her size.

“It’s a lot easier to defend someone my size out there,” the Australia native said. “It’s better than going up against someone 20 or 30 pounds less than I am.”

And as much as Minnesota was helping itself, the Wolverines helped the Gophers just as much.

Michigan turned the ball over 25 times and coach Cheryl Burnett said that was the difference in the game.

“No doubt, from our perspective, turnovers were the name of the game,” she said. “Looking at the stat sheet and seeing 25 turnovers, things become quite evident.”

Not only could the Wolverines not hold onto the ball, but the Gophers turned those crucial mistakes into points.

Minnesota scored 22 points off turnovers, which led to some easy transition baskets for the Gophers.

“We like to take advantage of transition points,” McCoy said. “We like being able to get these steals and be able to run on teams.”

As Minnesota travels to East Lansing on Sunday to play No. 20 Michigan State, it’ll need to hold onto those transition points and improve in a lot of other areas.

The Spartans are coming off a loss to Illinois on the road, all but giving up a potential No. 2 seed in the Big Ten tournament to Purdue and will likely be ready to take out a little frustration in their final home game of the season.

The Gophers are also looking to take their tournament seeding into their own hands as they find themselves competing for the final two first-round byes in the tournament.

But Borton said her team will focus on winning and doesn’t believe this is do-or-die time.

“If we can take a day off, fine, if not, we’ll get to play an extra game,” she said. “We’ll do what we can to control our destiny right now.”

Roysland takes a fall

Senior guard Kelly Roysland, who broke her collarbone earlier this season, took a spill with 19:46 left in the game Thursday, forcing her to sit on the bench for the remainder of her final game at Williams Arena, but Borton said Roysland is fine.

“She took a little jolt,” she said, “but (Roysland) will be ready for practice tomorrow.”