Gophers collapse at hands of Big Ten’s top team

No. 8 Michigan St. closed the game on a 32-6 run to drop the Gophers in the regular season finale.

by Jesse Mandell-McClinton

Coming off maybe its best game of the year, a double overtime win at Michigan, the womenâÄôs basketball team lost a double-digit lead in the second half of a Big Ten game for the fifth time this year, losing to No. 8 Michigan State 65-51 on Sunday.

âÄúI know that this team knows they can play with anybody,âÄù head coach Pam Borton said after the game.

TheyâÄôll have a chance to prove it Thursday when they face Northwestern in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament.

On the road against Michigan on Thursday, the Gophers held a 3-point lead with time running out when Michigan senior Veronica Hicks tied the game at 66 on a half-court bank shot with .3 seconds left, sending the game into overtime.

The teams remained deadlocked through the first overtime period, heading into the second extra frame tied 72-72. Minnesota came out strong and outscored the Wolverines 10-6 to take the game 82-78, sweeping the season series against Michigan for the sixth time in seven years.

âÄúIf we would have lost this game, it would have been devastating after working so hard,âÄù Borton said. âÄúBut we stuck together, and this was an important win.âÄù

Kiara Buford put in 21 points and Brianna Mastey had a career high 19 in MinnesotaâÄôs second conference road win this year.

The Gophers rode that momentum into their Sunday game against Michigan State, who had just secured their first outright Big Ten regular season championship Thursday. Minnesota pushed the tempo early and headed into to halftime with a 33-26 lead. The Gophers got 10 first-half points from sophomore Katie Loberg, who finished with a team-high 19 on 9-for-14 shooting.

That energy continued into the second half as the team built a 45-33 advantage with 13 minutes, 24 seconds to play, but as they have so many times this year, the Gophers let Michigan State right back into the game. After a media timeout, the Spartans took the steam out of Minnesota and the Gopher crowd with a 26-2 run over the next nine minutes, including 11 points from MSU junior guard Lykendra Johnson, who finished with 18 points.

âÄúWe had the momentum and we were playing really well,âÄù senior guard China Antoine said, adding that the SpartansâÄô run âÄúdampenedâÄù the teamâÄôs energy toward the end of the game.

The Gophers were outscored 32-6 over the final 14 minutes. Minnesota also let up on the glass in the second half, registering only nine boards after building a 24-11 advantage in the first half. The Spartans were able to grab 10 offensive rebounds in the second period, which Borton said fueled their late run.

The loss to Michigan State was the final home game and senior day for Antoine and Kristen Dockery, who were honored after the game. Antoine talked about some of her favorite memories at the barn, including a game-tying shot she hit against Wisconsin last year to send the game into overtime as well as the constant support from the fans.

The Gophers will now head to Indianapolis to face Northwestern in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament. The teams split their season series this year, with both clubs winning at home. If the Gophers are able to win that game, theyâÄôll have to face the Spartans again Friday.

âÄúItâÄôs something that youâÄôre definitely planning on doing,âÄù Loberg said of a possible run in the tournament, which the team will need to have to warrant any consideration for further postseason play.

Minnesota has held double-digit, second half leads over five of the top six teams in the Big Ten, and theyâÄôll need focus on how to maintain those advantages if they hope to find success in the tournament.