Hawaii a good destination for Gophers

Minnesota earned its first loss Saturday but rebounded Sunday to go 2-1 in the tourney.

Mark Heise

Two games into the Hawaii Rainbow Wahine Tournament, the Minnesota women’s basketball team’s win streak finally ended.

The Gophers (6-1 overall, 0-0 Big Ten) continued to play well in their opening game, downing Kentucky Friday with hot shooting, 92-80. But Minnesota struggled against Virginia’s defense Saturday, losing 62-73 to the Cavaliers. Minnesota rounded out the tournament with some strong defense of its own to down Hawaii 72-54, taking third place in the tourney.

“I think we’re happy with how we did in the tournament,” senior forward Leslie Knight said. “However, we know that if we had played better we definitely could still be undefeated.”

The Gophers started the tournament on a strong note, putting together another come-from-behind win over a quality Kentucky squad.

Minnesota shot more than 55 percent from the floor, and owned the final 12 minutes of the game after trailing 52-54. The Gophers put together an 8-0 run finished by sophomore guard Brittany McCoy’s lay-up.

Minnesota couldn’t miss, shooting 63.3 percent in the second half to open up a 16-point lead with five minutes left. The Gophers coasted to the win, as five players were in double-digits in the scoring category.

“We benefited from great balance tonight,” coach Pam Borton said.

Sophomore guard Katie Ohm had her best collegiate game, hitting all five three-point attempts to collect 17 points.

Junior guard Emily Fox led the team with 18 points, while sophomore forward Ashley Ellis-Milan added 16 points and 12 rebounds and senior post Leslie Knight added 15. Minnesota’s 92 points were the most since topping Illinois-Chicago 97-54 in the first round of the WNIT on March 14 last season.

The Wildcats were led by senior guard Samantha Maloney, who put up 29 points, 20 of them coming in the second half.

Heading into the winner’s bracket, the Gophers ran into a strong defensive effort from Virginia.

The Cavaliers held the Gophers to 21 points in the first half, including just two in the final seven minutes, to grab a 35-21 lead. Minnesota committed eight turnovers during that stretch, putting itself in a big hole.

The Gophers cut the lead to single digits several times in the second half, leaning on a 16-point, 11-rebound effort from Ellis-Milan, but Virginia couldn’t be stopped on the offensive end, cutting off several attempted rallies.

“Our defense wasn’t the greatest,” Knight said. “You can’t trade baskets with a team; you need to be able to get stops. Defense is something Minnesota prides itself in, and that night it wasn’t there.”

Down eight with three minutes remaining, the Gophers ended up fouling to keep their hopes alive, but the Cavaliers knocked down 12 of their last 14 free throws, sealing Minnesota’s first loss of the year, 62-73.

Ohm hit double digits with 12 points, while Virginia junior forward Lyndra Littles led all scorers with 18 points.

The Gophers’ defense perked up against Hawaii, as Minnesota forced 35 turnovers to help create 35 points en route to a 72-54 blowout.

Hawaii committed 21 turnovers in the first half, allowing the Gophers to go on a 13-0 run, including two three-pointers from Ohm. Minnesota took a 40-28 lead at halftime off seven consecutive points from Knight, and never looked back.

The Gophers extended their lead to 66-39 with just six minutes left in the second half, and cruised to the win. Fox led the team with 17 points and five assists, while Knight added 16 points to the mix.

“We just wanted to go out and have a good game so we could go home with a good feeling,” Knight said. “We were determined to play better Sunday night, and hopefully looking back, we can learn from our loss.”