Even in most losses, teams can often find positives to take away. That has not been the case lately for the Minnesota women’s basketball team.
The most recent letdown came Sunday as the Gophers lost at home to Illinois 61-48 , extending their losing streak to four games.
Numerous faults can be found in Minnesota’s play against the Illini, including shooting just 24 percent from the field, having no player hit more than one field goal in the second half and the five starters combining for a total of 25 points.
“It’s really tough [losing at home]; we want to protect our house and have a little more pride playing here at home,” Minnesota head coach Pam Borton said. “That puts a lot more pressure on winning a lot of games on the road.”
Even with eight games remaining in the regular season, the Gophers (11-10, 4-6 Big Ten) now face an uphill battle in trying to make it to the NCAA Tournament, especially since they only have three home games remaining.
The Gophers had a difficult time getting shots to fall early on against Illinois as they quickly fell behind 9-3. But 3-pointers by Katie Ohm and China Antoine helped quickly even the score at 11.
The lead bounced back and forth through most of the first half as each team took its turn going on scoring runs. Minnesota finished the half strong as Kiara Buford and Ohm hit back-to-back 3-pointers to give the Gophers a 30-26 halftime lead.
With the crowd fully behind them and momentum going their way, the Gophers seemed poised to come out and take control of the game in the second half. Instead, the opposite happened, as Illinois came out of halftime scoring in bunches, going on a 17-0 run in the first five minutes of the second half. Minnesota never recovered, and the Illini cruised to victory from that point on.
“Our lack of execution in making shots fueled their transition, and defensively we didn’t have the ball pressure that we usually have,” Borton said.
Illinois was led by senior Jenna Smith . The center from Bloomington, Minn., playing in her last game at Williams Arena, posted a game-high 18 points to go along with 14 rebounds and five assists. She scored six straight points for the Illini late in the second half that ended any hopes of a Gophers comeback.
The only Minnesota player to make it into double figures was Ohm, who finished with 11 points off the bench. Ohm was once again relegated to a reserve role with Antoine back in the starting lineup after missing three consecutive games.
Despite starting, Antoine was clearly not back to full strength as she finished with just three points in 22 minutes. Antoine’s return also failed to cure Minnesota’s recent turnover woes, as the Gophers committed 19 turnovers.
“I thought we had the momentum going into halftime and I thought we would carry it over, but we didn’t,” senior Ashley Ellis-Milan said.
The terrible second half — and 19 turnovers — for Minnesota was reminiscent of the entire game on Thursday when the women fell 81-58 to Ohio State.
The Gophers were torched by the Buckeyes’ tandem of guard Samantha Prahalis and center Jantel Lavender . Prahalis finished with 23 points and 10 assists, and Lavender had 20 points and 11 rebounds.
Minnesota has had trouble getting started either early in a game or to start the second half, but against Ohio State and Illinois it was both. The Gophers will need to find a way to get going faster if they intend to keep their postseason hopes alive.
“I think a lot of it’s mental. We just need to get some fire in us,” Ohm said after Sunday’s loss. “It’s just frustrating what we did tonight.”
The Gophers will try to end their skid as they host Wisconsin at 7 p.m. Thursday at Williams Arena.
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