Gophers blow big lead but gut out win

Minnesota led 40-20 at halftime, but Iowa came back and forced overtime.

Paul Cordes

The Minnesota women’s basketball team barely avoided a complete collapse in Iowa City on Thursday.

The Gophers managed to let a 24-point second half lead slip away but were able to narrowly escape a Hawkeyes comeback with an 80-78 overtime win at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

A dominant first half and a halftime lead of 20 evaporated in the latter part of the second half as Minnesota had a tough time hitting a big shot and Iowa refused to miss one.

“I thought we let up on our defensive pressure a little bit,” coach Pam Borton said. “Also, not having (senior guard Kelly Roysland) on the floor was a big difference for us as well.”

Roysland’s collision with an Iowa player in the second half, prevented her from playing the majority of the second half and kept her off the floor for all of overtime. Borton didn’t disclose any details about the injury.

So with Minnesota’s leading scorer on the bench, three points shy of 1,000 career points, the Gophers (13-8 overall, 5-3 Big Ten) were forced to play inexperienced underclassmen in just their fourth conference road game this season.

Sophomore guard Emily Fox said having Roysland on the floor makes things a little easier.

“(Roysland) brings a lot of leadership when she’s out there,” she said and not having her there hurts,” she said. “But I knew with Kelly out I was going to have to step up and play a bigger role.”

And that she did.

Fox lit up the floor going 5-of-6 from three-point range and 10-of-18 from the field. Her 30 points were a career best and is a team-high this season.

With freshman guard Brittany McCoy taking over most of the point guard duties for the Gophers this season, coaches have looked to Fox to be a big scorer.

That’s a big change from Fox’s high school days when she averaged nearly six assists per game. Borton said it was just a matter of time for Fox to have her night.

“It’s not a surprise to me that (Fox) had a game like this tonight,” she said. “We’ve been waiting for her to break out, and she’s playing with a lot of confidence right now.”

Minnesota found itself up by two after a back and forth overtime period and escaped with a win after the Hawkeyes (11-10, 3-5) missed a pair of shots as time expired.

Borton said she was proud of the way her team kept fighting and believes as her team matures, they’ll get better at closing games out.

Freshman forward Ashley Ellis-Milan said it’s just going to take some time getting used to playing in unfamiliar positions.

“It’s going to take all of us getting together, putting a game together both physically and mentally,” she said. “I think a lot of it is mental for us, but this was a good learning experience for us and will hopefully help us close out the next one better.”

Minnesota travels to Wisconsin this Sunday. The Gophers took it to the Badgers at Williams Arena earlier this season, winning 71-53.

Borton said her team will try and ride its momentum from the win over Iowa as it heads to Wisconsin.

“We feel like we’re on a role,” she said. “And hopefully we can use the momentum here from the last couple of games and get a win at Wisconsin.”