Gophers women’s basketball’s offense stalls without top three scorers in Big Ten Tournament

No Jasmine Powell, Sara Scalia or Kadi Sissoko put Minnesota in a hole that almost any team couldn’t pull itself out of.

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Shannon Doyle

Gophers center Klarke Sconiers fights for a pass at Williams Arena on Wednesday, Dec. 2. The Gophers defeated Eastern Illinois 72-68.

Tony Liebert

The Golden Gophers’ Big Ten tournament run ended as quickly as it started with a second-round defeat at the hands of Nebraska 72-61 Wednesday morning.

Minnesota tipped off the second round of the Big Ten tournament on Wednesday at 10:00 a.m. against Nebraska. The Gophers entered the tournament as the conference’s nine seed, prompting a matchup with the eighth-seeded Cornhuskers for a chance to head to a quarterfinal matchup against top-seeded Maryland.

Both teams have some familiarity this season, both meetings already resulting in two Gophers’ victories. Minnesota was coming off an eight-point loss to last-place Illinois in a game without three of its starters. The roster deficits continued, entering Wednesday without its three top scorers, Sara Scalia, Kadi Sissoko and Jasmine Powell all due to injury.

“Not every day is going to be 75 and sunny and living in Minnesota; we just literally had a stretch where it was minus 20,” Gophers head coach Lindsay Whalen said. “Today was a day where we obviously had adversity.”

An influx of injuries prompted freshman guard Katie Borowicz, who was still enrolled in high school just over three months ago, to find herself in the starting lineup for the first time in her Gophers’ career.

“I think she has done a really good job coming into a completely different position than any of us have been in,” Whalen said. “She showed a lot of poise, a lot of grit, and I am proud of the whole team, but I am definitely proud of her.”

Borowicz’s energy was not enough for the Gophers in the first quarter. Second-team All-Big Ten guard Sam Haiby made her presence felt early, with seven first-quarter points for Nebraska. While five Gophers found themselves in the scoring column, they still trailed 16-11 after 10 minutes of play.

The Gophers were clearly missing their offensive leaders in the second quarter, as scoring was hard to come by. They only made three field goals, resulting in a 22-10 deficit in the quarter and 38-21 in the game. Nebraska took advantage of nine first-half Minnesota turnovers, resulting in a 14-0 difference in points off turnovers in the half. The shorthanded Gophers had a big hill to climb in half number two.

Nebraska struggled mightily out of the locker room, shooting 4-for-21 from the field in the third quarter. The Gophers did their best to take advantage, cutting the lead to as low as 12, but 4-for-17 shooting themselves made for a sloppy quarter of play. Nebraska entered the final quarter of play, leading 50-35.

Minnesota did not go down without a fight. Trailing by 17 heading into the break, it could have rolled over and called it a season, but that didn’t happen. After its highest-scoring quarter of the game, Minnesota cut Nebraska’s lead all the way down to nine, but at the end of the day, it was just too little too late. The Cornhuskers came out on top, sending the Gophers home.

“We just started playing hard; we played together,” Whalen said. “I thought defensively we were really good, especially in the third.”

Ultimately the Gophers’ roster absences were too much to overcome. Haiby finished with a game-high 19 points to go along with eight rebounds and three assists. The Gophers outscored Nebraska in the final two quarters, but the hole they put themselves in at halftime was too much to dig out of.

The Gophers’ season is now likely over, as their hopes for an at-large bid to a postseason tournament are bleak with an 8-13 record.