Saturday, November 13, 2010

Gopher Women Handle Northern Illinois

The Gopher women met their first Division I foe of the year, and can take some satisfaction from easily dispatching the Huskies 79-58. But, let's be honest, this is an opponent that was 10-19 last year and has already lost its only exhibition game to a D2 opponent, Wisconsin-Parkside, 69-63, at home. Whatever cachet the Huskies brought to Williams Arena was in the person of new coach Kathi Bennett of the Wisconsin Bennett coaching dynasty, fresh from a stint as a Wisconsin assistant.

The folks in DeKalb will want to be patient with Kathi.

Still, like I said, the Gophers showed some positive signs in their first real ball game of 2010-2011, though 26 turnovers was not one of them. Nor was allowing the Huskies to come back from a 23-11 1st half deficit to within 32-30 at 1:45.

But certainly one of the encouraging signs was the Gophers' response to this rally, as they scored the final 10 points of the 1st half to lead at intermission 42-30. In the second half, the Gophers methodically increased their lead to 14, 15, 16, 18, 20 and finally 21 points at 79-58, the final score.

Here is how coach Pam Borton distributed the minutes:

Center--Loberg 23 Riche 11 Dockery 4 Dvorak 2
Big Forward--Voigt 30 Kellogg 9 Clay 1
Small Forward--B. Mastey 24 Buford 14 N. Mastey 2
Point Guard--Antoine 29 Cotton 11
Off Guard--Buford 19 Noga 11 Cotton 10

The only non-starter to play 20 minutes was sophomore guard Leah Cotton who, along with sophomore post Katie Loberg, is among the Gophers' most improved players. In 21 minutes, Cotton scored 16 points with 6 assists. Loberg scored 15 points with 6 boards and 3 blocks.

Still, the stars were the Gophers' starting guards China Antoine and Kiara Buford. In 62 minutes between them, Buford led the way with 22 points while Antoine contributed a team-high 7 assists with just 1 turnover. She was just about the only Gopher who didn't suffer from an attack of fumble-itis from time to time, a problem the Gophers will have to address if they are to improve on last year's disappointing 13-17 record.

Among the 4 freshmen (or, 5 counting redshirt freshman post Amber Dvorak), Canadian "big" Michaella Riche seems the most ready to contribute, as she did with 5 points and 3 boards today in 11 minutes. Sari Noga also contributed 5 points in 11 minutes. Kionna Kellogg had 2 points and 4 turnovers in 9 minutes. Clay and Dvorak played just 3 minutes between them and neither scored.

Meanwhile, senior post Kristen Dockery, who has had nothing but injury problems for 3 long years, contributed 1 point, 2 boards, 2 assists and a block in just 4 minutes and certainly has the skills to contribute. But the fact that she played just 4 minutes despite the fact that they were 4 solid minutes, suggests that maybe she is not physically able to stay on the court. We will have to see.

On balance, the Gophers' starting 5 looks able to compete in the Big Ten if they can protect the ball. But Cotton, Riche and Noga will be their depth--along with, hope against hope, a healthy Dockery--and none can be termed a proven commodity by any stretch of the imagination. Much will depend on them. Based on today's performance, there's reason for hope.

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