Thursday, January 27, 2011

Gophers crack egg in win column over Northwestern


RealTime RPI will have to make a few adjustments for Minnesota's status.

Minnesota defied RealTime RPI's prediction of a loss to Northwestern with a 63-58 win Thursday night at Williams Arena, snapping their seven-game losing streak and recharging a restless fan base.

Sophomore forward Katie Loberg fueled the charge with 21 points and seven offensive rebounds before fouling out late, but the game ball may be awarded to freshman forward Kionna Kellogg, whose persistence resulted in a hard-earned eight points and 15 rebounds.

"I owe that to my teammates, who were finding me the open spots," Loberg said.

"They've had a great attitude up to this point," Gophers head coach Pam Borton said. "(Kionna's) skills are catching up. She's playing hard and playing tough."

Overall, the game stayed on script with the series over the last few years, where the score is close and opportunities are limited.

Minnesota (9-12, 1-7) was hesitant on both sides to begin the game, passing the ball yet unable to find a clean look while yielding 13 free throws to an attacking Northwestern (14-7, 3-5) team, who made 11. Those traits, all too common in their seven-game losing streak, kept the 2,891 in attendance quiet in the first 20 minutes. Adding further anxiety was Minnesota going 0-for-3 from the free throw line in the first.

"One of the keys was not fouling and putting them on the line," Borton said. "(Northwestern) really clogged the paint and we took some tough shots."

The story flipped in the second half, with the Gophers beating the Wildcats in the transition game. The key moment came with 8:49 left in the second, when Minnesota trailed 41-40. The Gophers slowly answered with a 12-3 run, and that turned out to be the push they needed.

One more nail-biter came when junior guard Jackie Voigt missed the back end of free throws with 14 seconds left, giving Northwestern a chance to force overtime, only needing a three-pointer. Daninielle Daimant had an open look, but missed, and senior guard China Antoine got the rebound and made two free throws to ice Minnesota's first Big Ten Conference win.

"When you watch them on tape, they're a dangerous team," said Northwestern head coach Jim McKeown.

In the process, the Gophers forced the Wildcats' Meshia Reed and Allison Mocchi to foul out while sinking 18 of 22 free throws in the second half. Northwestern did sink nine of 14 free throws in the second, but Minnesota's 46-34 edge in rebounds nullified that advantage. That included an early second half possession where Minnesota picked up six offensive rebounds.

"They're padding their own stats," Borton joked. Eight of Kellogg's 15 rebounds were on the offensive side of the glass.

"Everybody went off the bench and I didn't even know what to do," said junior guard Kiara Buford on her team's reaction as time expired.

Buford, who made six of 38 shots in her last three home games, had a cathartic performance after a slow start. While her 5-of-11 shooting would be considered standard, she finished with 18 points and made all eight free throws in the second half.

"Bringing the transition, a strength of my game, and having one or two people back, I thought I was pretty good at drawing fouls," Buford said.

Northwestern's Amy Jaeschke played to her All-American candidate form, scoring a game-high 26 points on 8-of-16 shooting, showcasing her range that has attracted national attention. However, she was the only Northwestern player in double-figures, as the rest of the team made 26 percent of their shots.

"Minnesota outhustled us tonight, got the loose balls. You give up 21 offensive rebounds, you don't deserve to win," McKeown said.

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