Minnesota can’t overcome mistakes against Michigan State

Twenty-three total turnovers led to an 81-68 Gophers defeat.

Guard Sara Scalia drives towards the hoop at Williams Arena on Wednesday, Jan. 22. The Gophers were defeated by Wisconsin 72-62.

Emily Urfer

Guard Sara Scalia drives towards the hoop at Williams Arena on Wednesday, Jan. 22. The Gophers were defeated by Wisconsin 72-62.

Tony Liebert, Sports Reporter

The Gophers started the Big Ten conference play on the wrong foot with an 81-68 loss to Michigan State.

The Spartans came into Wednesday’s matchup against the Gophers women’s basketball team 2-0 on the season with blowout wins over St. Francis PA and Detroit.

Fortunately for Gophers’ head coach Lindsay Whalen, her team is only getting healthier. Sophomore guard Sara Scalia suited up for the first time this season after averaging 10.8 points per contest last season as a freshman. Freshman guard Alexia Smith also appeared in her first game as a Gopher after failing to do so in the first two. Scalia finished with nine points compared to Smith’s six.

“They looked great. They did what they could, they both played almost 30 minutes. They were obviously knocking some rust off in their first game of the year. It’s tough, but it’s what we’re doing,” Whalen said.

Laura Bagwell-Katalinich remained the only eligible Gopher not in uniform after the team opened the season without four players.

“We’ll know more this weekend on Laura. We will see how the next few days go with her,” said the Gophers’ head coach.

Wednesday’s matchup saw the Gophers face early struggles for the third consecutive game. Michigan State finished the first quarter leading 20-11, while Minnesota seemed careless with the ball totaling nine turnovers in only the first 10 minutes of play. MSU’s Nia Clouden led all scorers with 14 first-quarter points. Minnesota has been outscored 42-70 in first quarters so far this season.

“We need to do our best to simulate those things in practice. I mean, who wants to play from behind in 90% of the minutes we’ve played. I think we’re all tired of it,” Whalen said.

Whalen’s squad was able to do some damage control in the second quarter. Turnovers and three-point defense continued to be a problem as Minnesota totaled 15 first-half turnovers and allowed Michigan State to shoot 6-14 from beyond the arc. The Gophers flipped a switch at the 3:17 mark and closed the half on a 15-5 run, trailing only 38-48 heading into the locker room.

The third quarter saw a lot happen. Jasmine Powell picked up her fourth foul about midway through the quarter; the Gophers were without their starting PG all the way until the start of the fourth. To make matters worse, Kadi Sissoko headed to the locker room with an apparent lower leg injury. The Gophers were able to survive without their two leading scorers, as the deficit only grew to 11 heading into the fourth trailing 57-68.

Powell and Sissoko both began the final quarter of play on the court, but Powell only lasted 15 seconds. The sophomore guard picked up her fifth foul on the first possession. The final 10 minutes of play was much of the same story. Minnesota continued to cough up turnovers and Michigan State continued to find success scoring on its extra opportunities, ending with 30 of the team’s 86 points off Minnesota turnovers.

“When we are driving at the basket they’re swiping at the ball. We need to be tougher with the ball flat out. They denied reversals and denied us at the elbows. We need to work on being better in those situations by being more in-sync,” Whalen said.

The Spartans’ backcourt of Alyza Winston and Clouden found success all night finishing with 45 of Michigan State’s 81 points. Ultimately, Michigan State pulled away and left Williams Arena with an 81-68 win.

The Gophers will travel to Evanston, Illinois, to take on Northwestern Dec. 14 at 8 p.m.