Gophers get big lead but can’t hang on for win

by Paul Cordes

The Minnesota women’s basketball team dropped its third straight game decided by four points or less Thursday night against No. 4 Ohio State.

Though the Gophers led by as many as 10 points, they were unable to pull off the upset and lost 70-67 at Williams Arena.

Coming off a four-point loss to Indiana on the road and a three-point nail-biter to No. 10 Purdue at home last Thursday, Minnesota has had what coach Pam Borton called a series of moral victories. But she said she’s had enough of them.

“We’re tired of moral victories, and we need to start finishing games,” she said. “We had a key turnover at the end of the game, a couple of missed layups and shot 50 percent from the (free-throw) line, but most of that came from having a lot of youth on the floor.”

A lot of youths on the floor might have been an understatement. With 8:28 left in the game, the Gophers had a 57-48 lead and four freshmen and a sophomore on the floor.

But it was two freshmen – centers Ashley Ellis-Milan and Zoe Harper – who found themselves face-to-face with Ohio State senior All-American Jessica Davenport, and they played a big part in Minnesota having a 33-31 halftime lead.

The two shut down Davenport offensively, holding her to just five points and no offensive rebounds in the first half.

The pair also played aggressive on the offensive end, grabbing seven rebounds and scoring nine points combined.

The Buckeyes had ever more troubles as senior guard Brandie Hoskins, who came in averaging five assists and 14.8 points per game, left after apparently re-injuring her Achilles heel.

Ohio State coach Jim Foster said the loss of Hoskins meant the loss of his team’s most vocal leader, and he said he looked to his upperclassmen to step up in the second half.

“I had a conversation with (Davenport) at the half,” he said. “She is a very internal person and player, but she needed to step up and I thought she did a good job communicating, talking and doing what she needed to do in the second half.”

Davenport returned to the floor in the second half and simply dominated.

Her 12 second-half points including a six-point run that cut Minnesota’s lead from seven to one and turned the tide for Ohio State (22-1 overall, 11-0 Big Ten).

But it was on the defensive end that Davenport really took over.

She finished the night with 11 blocks to set the Big Ten record for career blocks with 373, one more than the previous mark. She also had 10 rebounds to pick up her second career triple-double.

Borton said she thought her team went after Davenport well in the first half, but she expected Davenport to step up later.

“Especially with Hoskins out, we expected (Davenport) to step up,” she said. “She really proved herself as a leader when her team needed her to.”

Despite Davenport’s increased presence, Minnesota still found itself up by five with less than five minutes to play. But the Gophers closed out the game with just three field goals while missing seven, including a three-pointer at the buzzer by sophomore guard Emily Fox.

Minnesota’s second-half woes also included a 42.9 free-throw percentage, which Borton said hurt her team the most.

“We have to value every opportunity we get at the line,” she said. “There’s no excuse for anyone on this team to miss free throws.”

The Gophers (13-12, 5-7) will ride their current four-game losing streak, which came after senior guard Kelly Roysland went out with a broken collarbone, into their game against Indiana at noon on Sunday.

“We just have to take this as another learning experience,” Ellis-Milan said. “We’ll practice hard and get ready for Indiana.”