The Minnesota womens basketball teams’ offense again struggled mightily to start the game against Michigan State on Monday, shooting a rugged 18.5 percent in the first half, including 12.5 percent from 3-point territory.
But Gophers freshman Kiara Buford took matters into her own hands in the second half, hitting three of her career-high four 3-pointers in a two minute span to give Minnesota (15-6 overall, 7-3 Big Ten) a 60-44 victory over the Spartans in Williams Arena.
“Shooting 18 percent, that’s going to be hard to win any ball game,” Gophers coach Pam Borton said about the poor first half shooting. “I wasn’t too worked up at half time, and I knew if we came out and hit a couple of shots we’d be fine.”
Buford finished the game with 16 points on 5-of-7 shooting, and Minnesota junior Ashley Ellis-Milan fought hard for her game-high 17 points to help the Gophers gain another win over a top opponent in the Big Ten and end the Spartans (15-7 overall, 8-3 Big Ten) six-game winning streak.
Minnesota junior guard Brittany McCoy also had one of her best overall games this season, playing excellent defense with three steals, and picking up nine points, six rebounds and five assists.
With the victory over the Spartans, Minnesota has now beat each of the current top-three teams in the conference, previously beating Ohio State (9-1 in the Big Ten) and Indiana (8-3 in conference) in January.
Michigan State is 14-0 when it holds its opponents under 60 points, and the record stayed intact as the Gophers 60 points ended up being enough to get past the stifling Spartans defense.
Ellis-Milan kept Minnesota close in the first half by going 5-of-5 from the free-throw line, as the junior was guarded by Spartans center Allyssa DeHaan – seven inches taller than Ellis-Milan, at 6-foot-9.
On Ellis-Milan’s first post-move coming less than five minutes into the game, DeHaan – who leads the Big Ten in blocks with 3.1 per game and is the conference’s tallest player – barely left the ground to easily block Ellis-Milan’s shot.
DeHaan finished with four blocks on the night.
Michigan State held Minnesota’s offense to no made field goals in the final six and a half minutes of the first half to give the Spartans a 29-21 lead.
Though, with DeHaan out early in the second half, Ellis-Milan and freshman forward Jackie Voigt scored easily in the paint and gave the Gophers a 32-31 lead with 16 minutes remaining.
Voigt, junior Katie Ohm and Ellis-Milan all had four fouls with nine minutes left in the game, and the Spartans regained the lead at 42-41 after two made free-throws.
“We thought we attacked them well in the first half and got their players in foul trouble, but didn’t take advantage of the second half,” Michigan State coach Suzy Merchant said.
At that point, Buford took over.
In the two minute span between eight and six minutes remaining in the game, Minnesota’s freshman sharp-shooter drained three-straight 3-pointers to give the Gophers a 50-44 lead at the end of the span.
“We knew she (Buford) was a very good shooter, we felt like we needed to know where she was at but we didn’t get out to her,” Merchant said.
The Gophers defense did nearly the same thing as the Spartans did to end the first half, but at a more critical time, as Minnesota locked-down in the last seven and a half minutes of the game to not allow a Spartans field-goal make.
“Its puts you in the zone when you hit a big shot, and it helps your team play defense and get stops,” Buford said.
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