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Gophers women’s baskeball starts to find rhythm with win over Penn State

An all-around performance from the Gophers resulted in their second consecutive Big Ten victory.
Image by 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.

The Gophers women’s basketball team defeated Penn State 85-76 Monday to move to 4-7 on the season. An all-around game with four Gophers scoring at least 15 points proved to be vital in earning their third Big Ten win of the season.

A late Monday afternoon tip-off in State College, Pennsylvania, against Penn State presented the Gophers with their first repeat opponent of the 2020-21 season. Earlier in the season on Jan. 10, Minnesota battled with the Nittany Lions for 40 minutes, ultimately suffering a 69-60 defeat at Williams Arena.

Penn State’s win over the Gophers was its only victory since Dec. 3, and the team sat at 4-6 prior to Monday’s contest. Minnesota was set to face a much different team Monday, as the Nittany Lions’ leading scorer, Kelly Jekot (15.9 points per game), would not be available to play due to a season-ending injury. Penn State head coach and Roseville, Minnesota native Carolyn Kieger was going to have her team ready to play, no matter who was suiting up.

Gophers’ sophomore guard Sara Scalia began the game with something to prove, knocking down two deep threes to open the game. Scalia’s hot shooting led the team with eight points in a first quarter that saw the Gophers shoot 9-for-18 from the field, resulting in a 21-19 lead after 10 minutes of play.

“The way she started out with her approach was really, really good for us tonight,” Gophers’ head coach Lindsay Whalen said.

Penn State’s Johnasia Cash took over in the second quarter. The senior post player had six points and eight rebounds, giving her a double-double for the game with 12 points and 11 rebounds in only one half of play. Despite Penn State’s successful quarter, the Gophers still led 41-39 heading into halftime.

Minnesota’s post players were in foul trouble for much of the third quarter, as Klarke Sconiers spent the entire quarter on the bench with three fouls and Laura Bagwell-Katalinich went to the bench after picking up her third early in the second half as well. Penn State seized the moment with a 16-8 rebounding advantage. Minnesota’s 25% shooting in the quarter did not help the cause, as the team trailed 60-53 heading into the fourth quarter.

“We were coaching frustrated and playing frustrated,” Whalen said. “I blew my top after the third, but I took a deep breath and realized we can win this thing.”

The Gophers seemed determined to leave Happy Valley with a win. A rather dominating final quarter saw Minnesota shoot 8-for-14 from the field and the team finished the game on a 28-9 run.

Late in the game Gadiva Hubbard suffered an ankle injury, but the senior guard knocked down two big free throws before leaving the court, ultimately sealing an 85-76 victory.

“I am sure she’ll be sore, but she’s a tough kid,” Whalen said. “She’s played through and with a lot, but I was just so proud of her game tonight.”

Minnesota finished with four players scoring at least 15 points. Scalia led with 21, Hubbard added 18, Jasmine Powell had 16 and Kadi Sissoko joined in 15 points on her birthday.

“It’s working to our advantage right now,” Whalen said. “We need everybody and having a nice rotation is something that we definitely need.”

The Gophers will look to extend their win streak with a home game Jan. 28 against the Purdue Boilermakers.

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