Monday, February 13, 2012

The Big Game 2-13-12: Minnesota Gopher women 64 Nebraska 58

The Minnesota Gopher women gave themselves and their fans a much-needed Valentine with a 64-58 upset of 4th place Nebraska. But maybe it's not much of an upset after all, given the Gophers' crazy ways this year.

They've lost 4 of their last 6, for example, losing to 5th place Iowa, 9th place Wisconsin and 10th place Illinois--and also to 1st place Penn State. But that was the closest of the 4 losses. Meanwhile, they've now beaten #1 Ohio State and #4 Nebraska. Go figure.

Tonight it was the defense that carried the Gophers to the win--or, was it just a cold shooting night by Nebraska? Well, I don't believe in coincidences. The Gophers held Nebraska to a 38 percent shooting night, which is exactly average for Minnesota. But, seriously, against an 8-3 Big 10 team that shoots, well, never mind, that shoots 39 percent on average.

So maybe it was the offense that shot 43 percent as opposed to its normal shooting percentage of 40 percent. Well, how about the 71 percent on 3 point shots? Of course, that was on just 5-of-7 shots but, hey, it's a darn sight better than the Cornhuskers 8-for-23.

But the real story was the 2nd half anyway. Nebraska opened fast, taking an 11-3 lead, but the Gophers fought back to take the lead at 17-16, and led 27-24 at the half. The difference at that point was Minnesota's ability to get to the FT line, where they made 9-of-10, compared to Nebraska's 2-for-2.

Minnesota opened the 2nd half on a shocking 13-0 run in just 3:00, suddenly leading 40-24 at 17:00. It was too good to be true, and sure enough Nebraska tied it up at 49 at 8:38 and 58 at 3:17, though they never re-took the lead. Neither team scored til the 1:00 mark, when Kionna Kellogg scored off the offensive glass. Rachel Banham and Brianna Mastey each hit a pair of throws inside of 20 seconds for the win. Nebraska failed to score in the final 3:17.

Minnesota shot 15-for-31 in the 2nd half, including 3-for-4 from 3 point land. The fly in the ointment was FTs, of which the Gophers made just 4-of-9, almost giving the game away. Minnesota also had the edge on the offensive glass, 9-4, for the 2nd half and scored 10 2nd half points (to 5 for Nebraska) after being shut out in that category in the 1st.

Banham led the Gophers in scoring (stop the presses) with 21 points on 8-of-15 shooting including 3-for-3 from long range. Kiara Buford added 16 on 6-of-9 shooting including 2-of-2 3 pointers, and scored 7 of those 13 early 2nd half points that ultimately carried the Gophers to victory. Meanwhile Nebraska's 2 big scorers, Jordan Hooper (20) and Lindsay Moore (12) needed 32 shots to score 32 points.

Kellogg and Mastey each garnered 11 boards, and the Gophers had a nice 42-31 edge on the boards overall. So there were a lot of highlights on both sides of the ball. Especially that final 3:17. Tied at 58-all, this was familiar territory for the Gophers and their fans--a big lead exhausted, a tie game heading down the stretch. The Gophers have lost more of these games than they've won. But not this time.

Nebraska shot 0-for-7, and Minnesota dodged a couple bullets in the form of Cornhusker offensive rebounds on which they failed to capitalize. They even missed their only FT. Of course, the Gophers also misfired on their 1st 3 possessions at the same time--2 misses and a turnover. But then came the play of the game--Kellogg's put-back of a Banham miss. Buford then rebounded a Nebraska miss, and Mastey rebounded the Gophers' next miss, leading to 2 Banham FT. Minnesota got the last 5 rebounds of the game. Who could have predicted that?

Well, Nebraska gets out-rebounded in the Big 10 by an average of 42-40, while the Gophers out-rebound their opponents 41-38. And the rebounds were already 37-31. So, yes, one could have predicted that.

I've said it before. Who's to blame for the fact that this team that can do such great things so seldom in fact does--in losing 5 of their last 7, for example. Is it on the coach, or on the players? A friend said the other day, that, well, it's a little bit of both. Damn. Where's that silver bullet when you want it?

Player of the Day

Rachel Banham, Gopher women 21 points 2 assists

Coach of the Day

Pam Borton, Gopher women

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