Thursday, December 2, 2010

Buford's career night ices Gophers win


The 2,709 who attended Thursday night's ACC/Big Ten Challenge game between Minnesota and Virginia Tech at Williams Arena got a taste of the chilly Twin Cities weather inside.

The Gophers were cold from the floor compared to the previous games, making just 41% of their field goals, less than their average of 48%. However, fans would never know it watching junior guard Kiara Buford, who scored a career-high 27 points on 10-of-18 shooting. Her cool demeanor in a tight game helped the Gophers beat Virginia Tech 63-58. Buford's previous career high was 24.

Buford's timing proved vital for Minnesota (5-3, 0-0), as no other Gopher finished in double-figures with Virginia Tech's (4-3, 0-0) zone defense stumping Minnesota until late in the second half.

"Kiara did a lot to create her own shots," said Minnesota head coach Pam Borton. "She does a great job making plays within our system. We've got to get more people to do that."

"I got a little excited in the beginning because I thought I was open," Buford said. "When we move the ball around and if I can keep my dribble, I can find seams."

Minnesota built a 23-6 lead midway through the first half as Virginia Tech was unable to put virtually any shot down, but the Hokies found their stroke to close the half with an 18-7 run. Their zone defense and offensive penetration, coupled with sloppy Minnesota turnovers late in the second, kept the result in doubt through the final minute. With the score at 61-58, Buford iced the game with two free throws after drawing a Virginia Tech foul.

While Borton was disappointed with her team giving up 32 points in the paint to Virginia Tech, the Hokies' inside game was somewhat muted, making just 50% of their short-range shots.

"We did a great job of finding a way to win," Borton said. "If you put us in this situation last year, we would have lost. I'm happy that we're disappointed with a win, because that shows us that we have higher expectations for our team."

Although Virginia Tech head coach Beth Dunkenberger was unable to take in the happiness of a victory, she was pleased with the Hokies closing a 17-point deficit to 1 early in the second without their top scorer, Shanel Harrison. Sophomore Aerial Wilson led Virginia Tech with 14 points off the bench and sophomore guard Alyssa Fenyn added 12.

"We've got some reserves that are coming in finding a way to step up and score when we're short personnel-wise. I'm encouraged by the gut and determination this team showed," Dunkenberger said.

Minnesota will seek to polish their skill for their toughest road game this season, when they visit #2 Baylor for the inaugural Big Ten/Big 12 Challenge before returning home next Thursday against Southern.

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