Gophers women’s basketball struggles against No. 16 Northwestern

Minnesota faced the same issues in its third consecutive loss.

Gophers+forward+Kadi+Sissoko+blocks+Eastern+Illinois%E2%80%99+Karle+Pace+at+Williams+Arena+on+Wednesday%2C+Dec.+2.+The+Gophers+defeated+Eastern+Illinois+72-68.

Shannon Doyle

Gophers forward Kadi Sissoko blocks Eastern Illinois’ Karle Pace at Williams Arena on Wednesday, Dec. 2. The Gophers defeated Eastern Illinois 72-68.

Tony Liebert, Sports Reporter

Turnovers and a slow start were the story again, as the Gophers women’s basketball team fell to 1-3 on the season following an 80-51 loss at Northwestern.

The Gophers’ women’s basketball team opened their 2020 road schedule Wednesday, in Evanston, Illinois, taking on the Wildcats of Northwestern University. Northwestern entered this matchup ranked No. 16 in all of the land, winning its only nonconference game against Eastern Illinois, a team that the Gophers defeated by 32 less points in their own matchup.

A struggling Minnesota team had a tough test ahead of itself against a Wildcat team that was voted to finish fourth in the conference. They are led by two preseason All-Big Ten conference players, Veronica Burton and Lindsey Pulliam. The latter of which was voted as the preseason player of the year in the conference.

Gophers’ head coach Lindsay Whalen began Wednesday’s game with some positive news, as Cornell graduate-transfer Laura Bagwell-Katalinich appeared in her first game as a Gopher, after missing the first three due to injury. The Ivy League graduate played 21 minutes recording three rebounds on 0-2 shooting from the field.

“She worked hard. It’s her first game with us. I will have to watch the video, but I thought she gave effort. I appreciated some things that I saw out there,” said the Gophers’ head coach.

As soon as the game tipped off, the Gophers were in a very familiar situation. Team turnovers were a struggle once again. After nine first quarter turnovers in their last matchup, the Gophers coughed up seven more today in the first 10 minutes of play. The sloppy play ultimately led to a Northwestern 25-14 first quarter lead. Minnesota has now been outscored 97- 54 in its four first quarters this season.

Whalen has focused on communication as something that needs to improve going forward, and this game was no different.

“I think communication is a constant thing. You have to be in constant communication with all five players on your team. It is something that you always have to be working on, or you’re not going to see results,” Whalen said.

The first half as a whole was largely a synopsis of all of Minnesota’s struggles this season. Three point defense and turnovers continued to loom large. Thirteen Gophers’ turnovers led to 16 Northwestern points, and the Wildcats’ 4-of-9 shooting from behind the arc made it tough for Minnesota to find any rhythm defensively. On the offensive end, Jasmine Powell was not able to get much help if any at all, scoring 12 of the Gophers’ 28 first half points, ultimately leading to a 28-43 deficit going into the break.

It got much worse before it got any better for the Gophers. Northwestern outscored Minnesota 17-7 in the third quarter extending the Wildcats’ lead to 25. Burton was having her way all night. The All-Big Ten guard eventually finished 20 points and 10 assists, missing only two shots and recording only one turnover. Minnesota faced an insurmountable 60-35 deficit heading into the final quarter of play.

The Gophers did their best to make the box score look a lot closer in the fourth quarter, but couldn’t get it done. Northwestern outscored the Gophers for a fourth consecutive quarter, 20-16. From the tip, Whalen’s team could not really get settled in, ultimately leading to a 80-51 defeat.

“Everybody needs to look at ways that they can help and improve the team. There is nothing magical I can tell them and it starts with me. The biggest thing that I told them was that we need to stick together, because we’re all that we have,” Whalen said.

Next on Minnesota’s schedule is a home game against preseason Big Ten favorite, Indiana, Dec. 23. at 1 p.m.