Minnesota survives despite falling behind by 10 early

Junior guard Emily Fox led the Gophers with 13 points in the season-opening win.

Mark Heise

Offensively, it was nothing special. But on the defensive end, opening night was a success for the Minnesota Women’s basketball team.

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Northern Iowa
what: Women’s basketball
when: 7 p.m., Tuesday
where: Cedar Falls, Iowa

The Gophers held UC-Riverside to just 28.6 percent shooting in the second half to overcome a 10-point deficit at Williams Arena, winning the season opener 57-49.

“Well it sounds like we weathered the storm,” coach Pam Borton said. “The first half we got ourselves down by 10, but I was pleased that our kids made plays in the last six minutes of the game.”

Minnesota (1-0 overall, 0-0 Big Ten) struggled to keep up with the speed of Riverside early on, as the Highlanders were a full step ahead on cuts to the hoop, allowing for easy baskets.

On top of that, Riverside was on fire to start the game, banking in two consecutive shots to go up 21-12 with nine minutes left in the half.

“At times it was just deflating,” sophomore guard Brittany McCoy said. “We would score, but then they come in and bank a three-point shot.”

The Highlanders shot 52.4 percent from the field in the first half, while the Gophers struggled to shoot 24 percent. But Minnesota found a way to stay in the game, collecting 14 offensive rebounds while holding Riverside to just one.

Minnesota used this to try to catch up, as junior guard Emily Fox and McCoy took responsibility for the offense and found lanes to drive for easy points.

Fox scored seven points in the half, while McCoy added six, bringing Minnesota to within six at the half, 21-27.

Riverside cooled off in the second half, and Minnesota began to run the floor more efficiently.

After going 0-6 from the free throw line against Australia a week earlier, sophomore center Zoe Harper hit a pair of free throws with 13 minutes left to tie the game at 34.

The Gophers’ forwards started to get involved in the offense, as senior post Leslie Knight executed the first successful post move of the night to put Minnesota ahead, and Harper ran the floor to score a transition basket.

The difference that experience makes was shown late in the game, as sophomore forward Ashley Ellis-Milan received the ball while holding a one-on-one matchup in the low block. Not even looking at the basket, the ball was passed out.

With 49 seconds left, Knight found herself in the same position, but looked to score, shooting over her defender, putting the Gophers up 55-49 to ice the game.

“We’ve been talking about Leslie needing to play like a senior and make plays, and she did tonight,” Borton said. “Even before she shot I knew it was going in, and that’s what seniors need to do. Ashley’s a sophomore yet, she’ll get there.”

The Gophers out-rebounded Riverside 52-25, and had four players score 10 or more points. Fox attributed the balanced attack to a more experienced squad than what Minnesota had last season.

“We’re a lot more poised and showed composure,” she said. “We didn’t know what to expect last year, but now we’re used to being in different situations, and that’s helped us.”