Comeback sparks new focus for U

Ryan Schuster

Silver linings have been hard to come by this season for the last-place Gophers women’s basketball team, but that’s just how the team described its two close weekend losses to conference leading Illinois and ninth-place Michigan State.
With the exception of the Gophers’ 81-73 win at Michigan State last month, the two eight-point losses are the high point of Minnesota’s Big Ten season.
Senior center Angie Iverson attributed Minnesota’s improved play down the stretch against 12th-ranked Illinois on Sunday to the Gophers’ nothing-to-lose attitude.
“Illinois is one of the top teams in the conference and one of the top teams in the country,” Iverson said. “We came out and we just figured we had nothing to lose. Everybody just went out there and played hard.”
But Illini coach Theresa Grentz blamed the comeback on her decision to go to the bench too soon during Sunday’s win over the Gophers.
After taking a comfortable 38-27 halftime lead, the Illini’s advantage twice swelled to 17 points in the second half, prompting Grentz to play several less experienced players. The backups turned over the ball several times, helping Minnesota get back in the game.
“When you are coming back and you are down, you are going to throw up some shots and they are going to go in,” Grentz said. “But if you have not been executing for an entire game, I’m not sure you can really do that in the last two minutes of the game.”
G Love
After her team’s 75-67 win over the Gophers on Sunday at the Sports Pavilion, Grentz had nothing but praise for the job that Littlejohn has done in her first year at Minnesota.
“Coach Littlejohn will change this program,” Grentz said. “She is on the way.”
Not to be outdone, Littlejohn, still glowing in the aftermath of Minnesota’s near-win against Illinois, strengthened her candidacy for the Optimist of the Year Award by somewhat jokingly suggesting that the Gophers (4-19 overall, 1-10 Big Ten) might be able to win the Big Ten tournament in three weeks.
“If we win the whole tournament, everybody better watch out,” Littlejohn said. “Stranger things have happened.”
Quote of the Week
“Honestly, I was kind of feeling sorry for myself,” Iverson, who combined for 37 points and 23 rebounds over the weekend, said when asked about her struggles earlier this season. “I was in a slump and everybody was saying, ‘Oh, I’ll be OK.’ I just had to kick myself in the butt and say, ‘Hey, you’ve been playing this game three-quarters of your life. You’ve just got to play.'”
Back door cuts
ù Littlejohn has challenged any four of her players to play a pickup game against her and the team’s three assistant coaches. If the players were to win, they would receive a day off of off-season conditioning. But if the coaches win, the players would have to wash the coaches’ cars and clean Littlejohn’s house.
All four members of the Gophers coaching staff played four years and made significant contributions at top Division I major college basketball programs.
So far, the players have wisely steered clear of the challenge.
ù The Gophers gave away countless T-shirts and miniature plastic basketballs to hordes of screaming children at the Illinois game Sunday afternoon. The promotion helped the team draw 2,559 fans to the Sports Pavilion, the most the Gophers have drawn since their 72-65 season-opening loss to Wisconsin-Green Bay.
ù Littlejohn engaged in some sideline antics during Sunday’s eight-point loss to Illinois. She was upset over some of the referees’ calls on Sunday, when Minnesota was called for 40 fouls to the Illini’s 20.
After the game Littlejohn joked that she pulled a muscle in her leg complaining about the calls and suggested that she needed to start running with her players during practice so she could keep up with referees during games.