The Minnesota women’s basketball team played the Syracuse Orange on Thursday evening at Williams Arena in front of a deafening crowd. Head coach Lindsay Whalen had worked all week to get her team ready and it showed.
The No. 20 Gophers upset the No. 12 Orange 72-68 in the first test against a ranked opponent for Minnesota.
“It was nice to have a couple days, we worked a lot on getting ready for their pressure, just getting ready for what they wanted to do,” Whalen said. “It’s still early in the season, we still have some strides to make, so it was good for us to have a couple of days of practice.”
Thursday's game was a part of the 12th annual ACC/Big Ten Women’s Basketball Challenge. Last season, the ACC Conference and the Big Ten Conference each sent 10 teams to the postseason and, to many, they are recognized as two of the most competitive conferences in the country.
The Gophers got out to a hot start in the game, and pulled ahead of the No. 12 team in the country by a score of 17-6 with two minutes left in the first quarter. Syracuse looked rattled and out of sorts in the first half, and at halftime Minnesota held on to its lead by a score of 36-31.
Kenisha Bell was relentless in her attack and time and time again her teammates were ready to back her up when called upon. At times the Gophers seemed to score at will against Syracuse’s zone defense. Bell finished with 24 points in the game, while Taiye Bello scored a double-double in two and half quarters and would eventually finish the game with 20 points and eight rebounds.
“We worked hard all week staying competitive in drills. Nobody likes to lose especially when you’re working so hard,” Bell said.
After the game, Syracuse’s head coach, Quentin Hillsman, called Bello the best when it comes to rebounding.
“I know it don’t look like it, but we game-planned for that … we didn’t do a very good job of executing that obviously,” Hillsman said.
Syracuse weathered the storm and used balanced scoring to hang in the game. Five players on the team scored more than eight points, and they tied the game at 55 with 6:34 remaining in the fourth quarter after Minnesota had the lead for most of the game.
"The first three quarters you’re up the whole time, and then they changed the momentum, we just knew that we worked too hard to lose this game," said Kenisha Bell.
In the fourth quarter, Minnesota used a timeout by Whalen to regain the momentum and the game away. With 3:33 left in the game, down six points, the Gophers went on a 11-0 run to pull the game out of Syracuse’s reach.
“We knew that coming into this environment, that if we didn’t get to the foul line, if we didn’t control the rebounding, that we didn’t have a chance to win this game. And that’s pretty much what happened, we got handled in the paint and we didn’t get to the foul line,” Hillsman said. “You can’t win games like that, not against evenly-matched teams, and they were definitely that, tonight they were the better team.”
Next on the schedule for the Gophers is a game against the Air Force Falcons on Dec. 2 at Williams Arena. It will be the second-to-last of six-straight home games for the team, as they now move to 6-0 on the season.