Though slow and sloppy starts characterized both games of the Gophers’ weekend, they could only overcome one.
The Gophers breezed past Northern Illinois 79-58 in the regular-season opener Saturday, but a late rally fell short a night later in a 79-75 loss to Wisconsin-Green Bay in the championship game of the Best Buy Classic at Williams Arena.
The Gophers fell behind 11-2 to Wisconsin early due to a handful of turnovers, a shot clock violation and an ineffective half-court offense.
But the Gophers slowly chipped away at the lead. Kiara Buford seemed to be the only Gophers player with a consistent half, scoring 10 points and finishing with 22.
But the Gophers the crept up behind Wisconsin late in the half and trailed 40-38 going into the break.
But the Phoenix started the second half on a 16-5 run, and the Gophers never fully recovered.
Halfway through the second half, Buford’s 3-pointer cut the lead to 11, but Hannah Quilling came right back with one of her own, highlighting a night of Wisconsin rolling with the Gophers’ punches.
The Gophers threatened with a comeback, cutting the lead to three with about three minutes left, but the Phoenix answered again, this time with a 3-pointer from Adrian Ritchie.
“It felt good to hit it, definitely,” Ritchie said. “We got momentum back.”
The Gophers shot better than 63 percent from the field Sunday, but had 27 turnovers, just one more than the day before.
While the loss itself stings, the Gophers may have also lost one of their more talented posts in Katie Loberg, who fell awkwardly on teammate Brianna Mastey near the end of the first half, clutching her left knee. She didn’t return to the game and head coach Pam Borton didn’t have an update on her status afterward.
The Gophers suffered from a similar start Saturday against Northern Illinois — they managed just four points in the first five and a half minutes — but eventually settled down in time to earn a trip to the championship game.
Minnesota led the Huskies 42-30 going into halftime, but Northern Illinois kept pace with the Gophers for much of the second half. The Gophers pulled away late thanks to a couple of 3-pointers from Leah Cotton and Buford.
Cotton had 18 of the Gophers’ 31 bench points Saturday and was a spark off the bench again Sunday with a game-high 23 points.
Despite the loss, Borton was proud of her team’s effort.
“I’m the worst loser in the world, and I hate to lose,” Borton said. “We could have thrown in the towel and it could have been a blowout or we could have fought back. I really learned about this team tonight.”
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