Thursday, December 9, 2010

Gophers swab win thanks to Cotton's 26


When Minnesota head coach Pam Borton scheduled Southern University for the 2010-11 season, she hoped it would be a fun night where she would get to send in her bench players, especially since the game was preceded by Baylor. The Gophers were crushed 103-56 in that contest.

Instead, Borton discovered how much the absence of post player Katie Loberg impacts her Gophers. Minnesota fought off a Southern defense that forced 23 turnovers while sophomore guard Leah Cotton netted a career-high 26 points to grind out a 63-48 win Thursday night at Williams Arena.

"(Kristen) Dockery and Jackie (Voigt) are doing an outstanding job. They're bringing their lunch pails every single day. We need another athletic kid on the floor, and it's Loberg," Borton said. "She runs the floor, she can score over the top of people. We're missing her a lot."

Borton did find the fun she was looking for in the post-game press conference as she, Cotton and Kiara Buford had difficulty setting up their chairs.

"We just had another turnover trying to put this chair down, so we got 24 turnovers for the game," Borton joked.

Southern (2-5, 0-0) never led during the game, going scoreless in the first five minutes, but they did trim the margin to one with 2:30 in the first half before Minnesota finished with a 7-0 run. Had Southern not struggled in the second half, where they made just eight field goals in 28 tries, the Jaguars could have positioned themselves to take an upset win back to their campus in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

Fatigue was most evident late. Minnesota (6-4, 0-0) guard China Antoine picked up two key steals in the closing minutes and Buford added a block for good measure.

"We wanted to switch it up, play man-to-man, then play a little zone," said Southern assistant coach Carlos Funchess, describing Southern's "hurricane" defense.

"When you exert a lot of energy on defense, it's going to take its toll. We didn't get in good position; a lot of reaching and fouling. We've got to improve our conditioning," he said.

"They were in a 1-3-1 half-court defense and we made it a lot harder than it needed to be," Borton said. "Once we got ball reversal, we had Leah attacking the basket. She kept us alive and afloat."

Cotton had to work for every last point, making only five of 12 shots, while two lay-up attempts were negated by charging fouls. Her 26th point finally came with 1:06 remaining in the game, when Cotton made the last of her 13 free throws after drawing a foul. Her 13 makes, along with five rebounds, also bested her previous career marks (12 and 4 respectively).

While Cotton is still looking to make smarter decisions on the court, her aggressive style is responsible for her blooming offensive production. In the last four games, the Kansas City native has scored 20 or more points three times. Cotton's averaging 15.5 points per game after 10 games this season, nearly five times more than last season's average of 3.4 per contest.

"Last year, I didn't really believe in myself. This year, I know I have a completely different role I need to take on," she said.

Loberg remains day-to-day after suffering an Achilles strain in Minnesota's win over Virginia Tech last Thursday.

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