Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Gophers fall in hole again with loss to Iowa


The No. 21/22 Iowa Hawkeyes came to Williams Arena as a surprise team in the Big Ten Conference Wednesday night as they battled the Minnesota Golden Gophers.

Iowa losing its first two conference games of the season was a shock to Big Ten followers, but Minnesota shocked themselves a second time with another late collapse, losing 63-57. Iowa's (13-3, 1-2) two-game losing streak was snapped while Minnesota (8-8, 0-3) left without a conference victory, losing its third straight.

"We had a lot of defensive breakdowns in the last two-and-a-half minutes," said Gophers head coach Pam Borton. "We need our freshmen to catch on to things a little bit quicker."

Minnesota started out sluggish, perhaps feeling the ill-effects of Sunday's overtime loss to Indiana. Trailing 16-8 midway through the first half, the Gophers found their agility to make a 22-5 run as they disrupted Iowa's rhythm on offense.

The Hawkeyes had no better luck from three-point range in the first 30 minutes of the game, although guard Kachine Alexander swooped by the Gopher defense until her teammates warmed up.

Trailing by nine, Iowa answered Minnesota's first half run following a media timeout with 7:37 in the second, stringing a 16-5 run capped off by two Kari Hansen free throws to give Iowa the lead with 2:54 remaining.

"We said we couldn't panic," Alexander said. "We just had to execute and get stops. Kali Hansen hit a big three for us to tie the game up and we're like 'We're back, it's time to roll.' "

Iowa rolled late from three-point range, making five of six in their second-half run after sinking two of 15 to start.

In the final minute, China Antoine picked up a steal, but opted for a long two-point shot instead of going one-on-one with Iowa guard Kamille Wahlin. Antoine missed, and following an Iowa shot clock violation that gave Minnesota one more chance to salvage the game, Kiara Buford missed a three-pointer that would have tied the score at 59.

Alexander, a 2007 graduate of Benilde-St. Margaret's, sealed the outcome with two free throws. She scored a game-high 20 points, adding eight rebounds and five assists. Crookston graduate Kamille Wahlin scored 14, including a key three-point basket as the shot clock expired with 4:47 left, and also picked up five assists.

"Kachine willed us to win today," said Iowa head coach Lisa Bluder. "She had some great penetrations, went to the free throw line and did a great job there." Alexander made all five free throws.

"Kamille is clutch. That's what I call her all the time," Alexander said.

Iowa was also clutch from the free throw line, making 17 of 20 for the game. Minnesota, whose average was 69 percent prior to the game, made just five of 11.

Alexander, one of only two guards to average a double-double in NCAA Division I last season, passed the 1,000-point career plateau for the Hawkeyes. She is one of five Minnesota natives to play college basketball in Iowa City this year, and Bluder has no plans to abandon recruiting in the North Star State.

"Minnesota is a recruiting stockyard. I can't say enough about Kamille, Hannah (Draxten) and Theairra (Taylor)," Alexander said. "When I first came here, it was just two (Minnesotans). It just blossomed. It's just a place where you can get good, quality players."

"They're very fundamental. They work extremely hard. They've got good values and good morals," Bluder said.

Iowa's recent issues surprised many women's basketball fans, after a 12-1 non-conference showing put them in contention to lead the Big Ten race.

With Ohio State paying a visit to Iowa City Saturday, the Hawkeyes hope their road win will be the turning point in their 2010-11 campaign.

"A teammate told me a quote, 'Good athletes have short memories,' " Wahlin said. "No game is ever the same."

Minnesota's second collapse of the week masked a return to form from sophomore guard Leah Cotton, who led the team with 18 points on 8-of-11 shooting, dazzling the 3,318 in attendance with her runners.

Gophers fans may start asking what is wrong with their top player, Buford. Buford scored 11 points, but made only three field goals in 12 tries, and is just 4-of-25 from the floor in her last two games.

Buford has taken an extra hour of practice to work on her shot, but she has no concern that her stroke has vanished.

"You can't stop shooting. You got to take it in stride and keep putting the ball up," she said.

While Borton was frustrated with Minnesota's issues at closing games this week, she sees consistent energy from her young team as they continue what she calls the learning experience.

"If we keep playing this hard, we'll start winning games pretty quickly," she said.

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