Tough defense leads Gophers women’s basketball over Nebraska

A season-low 63 points allowed helped Minnesota knock off a red-hot Nebraska team.

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Emily Urfer

Guard Sara Scalia drives towards the hoop at Williams Arena on Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2020.

Tony Liebert, Sports Reporter

It was an all-around performance Wednesday night from the Gophers women’s basketball team, with every Minnesota player scoring and four finishing with double figures. The balanced attack along with lockdown defense from Minnesota resulted in a 73-63 victory over Nebraska.

Minnesota entered Thursday’s contest against Nebraska without its leader. Second-leading scorer and starting point guard Jasmine Powell (14.5 points per game) was ruled out due to an ankle injury. At full strength, the Gophers were able to take down the Cornhuskers on Jan. 19 in a 76-71 victory.

Nebraska brought reinforcements as it is now led by reigning Big Ten player of the week, Isabelle Bourne who was held out of the previous matchup with the Gophers due to injury. The sophomore forward averaged 21.5 points and 14 rebounds in the team’s last two victories. Slowing down Bourne would go a long way for the Gophers looking to improve their standing within the Big Ten, as the conference tournament is now two weeks away.

The Gophers received their offensive production from unfamiliar faces to begin Thursday’s game. Junior-transfer Kayla Mershon led the team with four first-quarter points, playing with a chip on her shoulder against her former team. Minnesota controlled much of the quarter until a buzzer-beating three from Nebraska cutting the lead to 15-12 after 10 minutes of play.

Minnesota continued to find offensive success from its post players in the second quarter, as Klarke Sconiers led the team with eight points. After leading 14-4 in paint points, it looked like the Gophers would balloon their lead until Nebraska knocked down four threes in the quarter helping the team stick around. After four lead changes, Minnesota carried a 31-30 lead into the half.

It continued to be a balanced offensive attack for the Gophers to begin the second half until Sconiers came off the bench near the end of the quarter and stood out once again, scoring six points bringing her game total to a game-high 14 at the end of the third. Nebraska was able to stick around with timely threes. The score was tied at 51, setting up for a tantalizing fourth quarter.

Kadi Sissoko spent much of the game on the bench in foul trouble, but she was saving all her buckets for the fourth quarter. The redshirt sophomore led the Gophers with eight points and four rebounds to close out the game, resulting in a 73-63 Minnesota victory.

Gophers coach Lindsay Whalen had her team playing some of its best defense of the season, allowing a season-low 63 points. Nebraska’s 47.4% three-point shooting was about all that kept it in the game.

“[Practicing defense was] pretty much all we did Monday and Tuesday,” Whalen said. “It is something we knew coming into this homestand would be a big focus after a couple of tough nights out east.”

Offensively, Sara Scalia completely adjusted her game from a score-first shooter into a facilitator. The Stillwater, Minnesota native compiled 11 points, eight assists and seven rebounds, remarkably without recording a turnover.

“Obviously we think of her as a scorer,” Whalen said. “That last two, three minutes we put her on [Sam] Haiby, I thought her strength was able to make Haiby take some tough shots down the stretch.

Minnesota now moves to 8-11 on the season and will carry its momentum into a matchup with Michigan on Feb. 28 at the Barn.

“At this point we talked about every moment we get, just to seize the moment,” Whalen said. “It’s another home win and it gives us a load of confidence going into this weekend against a good Michigan team.”