Sunday, November 14, 2010

Gopher women "turn over" chance at weekend sweep


The Minnesota Gopher women's basketball team was unable to mask their growing pains in a 79-75 loss to Wisconsin-Green Bay in the championship game of the Best Buy Classic Sunday at Williams Arena.

Five Green Bay players finished in double-figures as they took advantage of Minnesota miscues on defense and ball control, scoring several back-door lay-ups in the first half and forcing 27 turnovers throughout the game.

Green Bay, ranked 2nd by ESPN among mid-majors, had to fight off two Gophers comebacks after building an 11-point lead in the first half and 16 in the second.

"We stopped getting back on defense," said Green Bay head coach Matt Bollant. "We missed a couple of lay-ups; your missed shot leads to their fast break."

Both times, the Gophers cut the margin to two and late in the second, Minnesota had a chance to tie. However, with 30 seconds left, junior guard Kiara Buford could not grasp a missed jumper from Phoenix forward Julie Wojta. Sarah Eichler got the ball, forcing Buford and the Gophers to play foul-and-chase, and Green Bay finished the job from the free throw line.

"They caught us off guard," said Gophers head coach Pam Borton. "Some of our players played a lot of minutes, they took a rest for a second, that's when (Green Bay) took advantage."

While Borton hates losing, she saw Minnesota's performance as a big character-building moment early in the season.

"We were forced to play some freshmen that aren't ready to play in games like this. They played their butts off," she said.

Bollant, a Winona State graduate, said the Phoenix weekend sweep continues their mission of representing the mid-majors that began with their first NCAA tournament appearance in school history last season. Their qualification was also the first for a Horizon League school.

"Last year, we beat DePaul, Wisconsin and Marquette. We got everybody back from that team. We have the ability to go and make it happen," he said.

Gophers sophomore guard Leah Cotton scored a game-high 23 points on 10-of-12 shooting, saying her confidence is much higher than last year after finishing the first weekend making 15 of her 18 shots. Buford added 22 points.

"Cotton's going to make them a better team. If Cotton can do that for them, they're going to win some games in the Big Ten," Bollant said.

Higher scoring figures may be common for the 2010-11 season. The Gophers sank 53 percent of their shots in Sunday's loss after making 60 percent in their first game against Northern Illinois. Continuing to attack the post, the young Gophers team is also eager to develop an inside connection with themselves.

"We're our biggest supporters on the court," Buford said. "We're constantly huddling, telling each other what we need to do."

However, the Gophers may need to make a few unplanned adjustments. Sophomore center Katie Loberg was taken out of the game in the first half after injuring her left knee following a Brianna Mastey lay-up. Loberg needed assistance to get off the court. Her status was unknown as of Sunday night.

The Gophers continue their five-game opening homestand Wednesday night when they host Pittsburgh at 7:00 p.m. in Williams Arena.

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