Thursday, January 20, 2011

Gophers get Badgered for sixth straight loss


Minnesota fans expressed concern when, at the start of Big Ten Conference play, the website RealTime RPI predicted their women's basketball team would only win one conference game: at home Thursday night against Wisconsin.

Prior to tip-off, RealTime RPI adjusted that prediction, suggesting Wisconsin would win and Minnesota would finish the season with a goose egg in the conference win column. After the Badgers defeated the Gophers 71-63 at Williams Arena, the site may signal an eerie feeling for the Gopher faithful.

"We had nine turnovers and 15 offensive rebounds. You'd think, having a game like that, you'd win the basketball game," said Minnesota head coach Pam Borton.

Minnesota (8-11, 0-6) clicked on offense in the first half, building a 16-point lead by capitalizing on their free throws. The Gophers made as many free throws as Leah Cotton scored points, both getting 15 in the first 20 minutes. Taking a 44-30 lead to the locker room at halftime, Minnesota appeared poised to win their first conference game of the season.

"We gave up too many direct-line drives," Wisconsin head coach Lisa Stone said. "Our transition defense was poor, we were late on everything. I told them 'Get there with your feet.' "

Wisconsin (10-9, 5-2) adjusted in the second half by attacking the baseline on offense and crowding the paint on defense. The Badgers took their first lead with 4:37 left in the second on a Lin Zastrow three-point play. Wisconsin never looked back as they limited Minnesota to 19 second half points on 7-of-34 shooting, capping off their second largest come-from-behind win in school history.

"Our defense affected our offense tonight," Borton said.

"We shut the driving lanes down, forced them to kick, and on the kick, we were on their feet." Stone said.

Fueling the Wisconsin surge was St. Paul native Alyssa Karel. The Cretin-Derham Hall standout scored 21 points to notch her 10th consecutive game in double-figures. Zastrow finished with a double-double, getting 21 points and 12 rebounds. The Badgers shot 64 percent from the floor in the second half.

Minnesota guard Leah Cotton scored a game-high 24 points, but made just three of 11 second half field goals after going five of seven in the first. No other Minnesota player finished in double-figures.

The Gophers have now lost six straight despite improved ball control over the last few games, forcing Borton's squad to continue searching for a solution in a season of questions. Kiara Buford struggled from the floor again, scoring nine points on 2-of-13 shooting while making just six of 38 shots in her last three home games. In that span, the Gophers have seen leads of 11, 13 and 16 points wasted.

"She's got the ball in her hands a little bit more than she used to," Borton said. "Kiara's doing a lot for us. She's pushing the ball in transition, looking for her shot, she's trying to get some other people shots in transition."

As much as Minnesota would like Buford to add more points, Borton stressed the biggest key to stopping their skid is finding consistency.

"We're a better team than this. We've got to put two halves together," she said.

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