Late comeback not enough

Minnesota cut the deficit to four points with 3:15 to play, but couldn’t get any closer.

Paul Cordes

An 18-point deficit was simply too much for the Minnesota women’s basketball team to overcome Thursday night in Champaign, Ill.

The Gophers fell to Illinois 64-54 after shooting 30 percent from the floor and 11 percent from three-point range.

Minnesota’s poor shooting allowed Illinois to take the early lead and Gophers coach Pam Borton said her team just couldn’t put shots together in the first half.

“I thought our shooting was pretty cold,” she said. “I thought we were taking some ill-advised shots that we normally don’t take and we missed too many of the open shots we got.”

Lack of presence in the paint certainly played a large role in Minnesota’s offensive struggles early.

As the second-leading scorer for Gophers this season, freshman center Ashley Ellis-Milan has played a big role for Minnesota offensively, but found herself unable to score Thursday as she went 0-for-9 from the field.

Borton said the Gophers weren’t aggressively attacking the basket and settled for too many jump shots.

“We probably should have given the ball to Ashley at some better times, and she could have taken her time a little more inside,” she said. “We’re a team that attacks the rim and the basket and we did not do that in the first.”

The Gophers (11-8 overall, 3-3 Big Ten) trailed by as much as 18 in the first half but were able to pull within 14 to go into the locker room down 36-22.

The second half was a little brighter for Minnesota as it managed to put a halt to the Illinois offense and found success with the full-court press.

The press was successful in the first meeting between the two teams on Dec. 31, and although it wasn’t effective in the first half, the Gophers went back to it in the second half and were able to put some pressure on the Illini.

“The press was effective in the second half,” Borton said. “We weren’t able to make enough shots in the first to really get into the press; the second half, we shot the ball better and we were able to pressure the ball a little more.”

The better shooting and increased offensive production was mostly because of the efforts of sophomore guard Emily Fox.

Fox went 7-for-18 from the floor and her 16 points helped fuel a Minnesota comeback as the Gophers pulled within four with 3:15 left to play.

“I thought we made a great comeback in the second half,” Borton said. “We cut it to four, but we gave up a key offensive rebound on the foul line and I thought it took the wind out of our sails at that point.”

Illinois’ Chelsea Gordon grabbed that rebound on the second free throw of a one-and-one, and from there the Illini bumped their lead from four to 12 before Minnesota would score again.

The Gophers made a last-ditch effort to halt the Illinois attack by sending a barrage of Illini to the line, only to watch them sink seven of their last 10 free throws to seal the deal.

As a whole, Illinois (14-4, 4-2) shot 20-of-25 from the charity stripe.

“At the end of the game, there wasn’t really a good person to foul,” Borton said. “We have to give them credit, they did a good job hitting their shots.”