Well, the Gopher women went out with a bang. All in all, it has been a disappointing and frustrating season--with a huge win over Ohio State; other nice wins over Michigan State, Nebraska and Arkansas; and 2 very close losses to conference champion Penn State on the one hand; and devastating, embarrassing losses to Illinois, Wisconsin and Quinnipiac on the other.
And, no, it wasn't a young, inexperienced team. They just played that way. But, yes, their best player, their undisputed leader--some would say the only player with a real leadership attitude--is/was a freshman, Freshman of the Year in the Big 10, as a matter of fact, Rachel Banham.
But, well, all of that aside. The 2012 Gopher women went out with a bang: An 81-49 shellacking to revenge that home loss to the 9th place Badgers. And, now, a 2nd very close loss to Big 10 champion Penn State.
The Gophers led 31-18 with 8 minutes remaining in the 1st half. By half-time it was 36-29, and with 10 minutes remaining in the 2nd half Penn State had turned an 13-point deficit into an 13-point lead at 58-45. Yes, they had had their way with Minnesota over an 18 minute period, out-scoring their opponent 40-14!
But the Gophers fought back with a 9-0 spurt triggered by a pair of Banham steals and a Buford offensive rebound. 5 minutes later it was 71-67 after a Banham 3 (from Loberg) and a Buford 2. Then came the play of the game:
Loberg blocked a Penn State shot, and Banham grabbed the rebound. Minnesota had the ball and a 4-point deficit. But Banham turned it over and, then, after a Penn State miss, the Nittany Lions grabbed the offensive board and scored on a put-back. 73-67 now at 1:03.
Even so, Minnesota got within 74-71 at 0:26 but Banham missed a 2. Penn State made a pair of throws and then Banham hit a 3. 76-74 at :08. Penn State made 2 more FT for the final.
Minnesota out-shot the Lions 47 percent to 36 but lost the possession game. Penn State had 14 offensive rebounds and 15 turnovers. Minnesota had 8 and 22. In the 2nd half Minnesota had 7 more turnovers (11-4) and 6 fewer offensive boards (9-3). Given the shooting percentages, if the 2 teams had taken the same number of shots, Minnesota wins 79-69. Take away the points off turnovers and 2nd chance points and Minnesota wins--oooh, this one hurts--56-36. But no, Penn State scored 26 points off Minnesota turnovers and 16 2nd chancers. Minnesota's numbers are just 12 and 6.
Special teams. The power play and the goal line stand. The Gophers were great between the 20s and at equal strength. But the special teams and the red zone--no go.
Still, we will miss Kiara Buford, Jackie Voigt and Brianna Mastey. They'll be replaced next year by Shayne Mullaney, Jackie Johnson and Kayla Hirt who, I hope, will be better. Or, maybe not. They need to be better. Because with all the players who are returning and Buford and Voigt and Mastey, the Gophers finished 15-17. They've got to be better.
But congrats to the Gophers for showing some spine in Indy and finishing up with a pair of great efforts.
Player of the Day
Rachel Banham 25 points, 9 rebounds, 3 steals
Coach of the Day
Johnny Tauer, St. Thomas men, who just escaped Claremont-Mudd-Scripps in the 1st round of NCAA D3 play 76-74 at Whitewater, WI.
Gustavus lost to Wheaton, IL 68-60.