Gophers survive in OT earning first Big Ten win of the season

Gadiva Hubbard’s late game heroics put Minnesota over the Badgers in an 88-80 overtime thriller.

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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

The Gophers women’s basketball team survived a late game comeback from Wisconsin, earning its first Big Ten win of the season, to improve to 2-4.

After a 10-day layoff, the Golden Gophers returned to action with a matchup against the Badgers of Wisconsin. The opposition entered this contest with early season struggles of their own, sitting at a 3-3 overall record and 0-3 in the Big Ten thus far. Wisconsin is led by sophomore guard Sydney Hilliard, who averaged 20.7 points, 5.3 rebounds and 5.3 assists per contest coming into Sunday’s game.

After beginning the season with games against four perennial NCAA tournament teams in its first five games, the Wisconsin matchup presented a get-right opportunity for the Gophers.

The Gophers came out firing, building on their best first quarter of the season from last time out against Indiana, jumping out to a 22-11 lead over the Badgers. They were able to flip the script, as early season struggles of three-point defense and committing too many turnovers were flipped.

Wisconsin had seven first quarter turnovers compared to Minnesota’s two. The Gophers 57.1% shooting from beyond the arc in the first ultimately opened their biggest first-half lead of the season.

Sara Scalia has gotten out to a slow start in this season, after an All-Big Ten Honorable Mention season last year as a freshman. Sunday against Wisconsin, the Stillwater, Minn. native showed her potential with a team-high 11 first-half points. Unfortunately, Scalia ran into a hard screen in the second half, forcing her out of the game completely.

“We will have to re-evaluate tomorrow and where she is at,” Gophers’ head coach Lindsay Whalen said following the game.

The Gophers led at the half for the first time this season, 41-30, after forcing 13 first-half Wisconsin turnovers and committing only four of their own. After the game, Whalen was happy with her team’s improved decision making.

“We only turned it over 10 times and had 19 assists, that’s how you play the game,” she said.

A second-half slugfest saw both teams commit 25 fouls combined. The Gophers’ 11 point first-half lead quickly shrunk, as they cooled off dramatically only shooting 29.4% as a team in the final two quarters.

Wisconsin’s backcourt of Julie Pospíšilovà and Hilliard took over the game combining for 17 points, nine assists and three rebounds in the final two quarters, as well as limiting Jasmine Powell to zero points in the second half. Minnesota was able to limit the damage as Gadivia Hubbard, Laura Bagwell-Katalinich and Kadi Sissoko combined for 27 of the team’s 29 second half points.

A late layup from Hubbard seemed to seal the game, until Wisconsin’s Imani Lewis sank a layup of her own to send the game to overtime, tied at 70.

The extra period saw the Gophers jump out to a 7-0 lead and Wisconsin, then answered with a 10-5 run of its own. A late-game blunder from the Badgers — they attempted to call a timeout when they did not have one — which resulted in a technical foul would ultimately extend the Gophers’ lead.

“Our team chose to fight and persevere,” Whalen said. “How you play is generally how you practice, and that mental focus is what I saw yesterday in practice. They deserved to win. We kept fighting and kept playing.”

Minnesota won 88-80, earning its first Big Ten win of the season to improve to 2-4 overall. Five Gophers scored in double figures led by Hubbard’s 24 points, 19 of which came after halftime.

“Gadiva [Hubbard] was huge down the stretch,” Whalen said. “She played with four fouls from the third quarter on with four fouls; you just can’t replace that savviness and experience.”

Minnesota will now travel to Iowa City, Iowa, for a Jan. 6 matchup with the Iowa Hawkeyes (7-1).