Four seniors played their final home game at Williams Arena for the Gophers women’s basketball team on Sunday.
Minnesota (19-9) took on Michigan State (19-9) in the teams' second meeting this season. The Gophers fell to the Spartans by 18 points on Jan. 9, but this time the Gophers got their revenge on the Spartans by downing them 82-63 — a 19-point advantage.
Seniors Kenisha Bell, Annalese Lamke, Palma Kaposi and Irene Garrido Perez got the start on senior night, along with sophomore Destiny Pitts.
In a low-scoring first quarter, Minnesota was up 7-6 about five minutes into the game. The score was tied at 14 after the first quarter.
The second quarter saw the Gophers widen their lead to 21-16 by the 6:55 mark. Then, three straight Minnesota 3-point shots rattled in and out of the hoop. The Gophers didn’t let the shooting slump affect them, and Pitts made free throws to keep Minnesota ahead.
Pitts is currently ranked second in the Big Ten for free throw percentage, and her performance on Sunday was a large part of Minnesota’s success.
“Coach [Lindsay Whalen] kept emphasizing to us, 'attack, attack, attack.' And I think in the last two losses we kind of got away from that in the second half,” Pitts said. “We focused on that a lot this game, and it paid off. You can tell by how many times we got to the free throw line.”
Jasmine Brunson brought high-energy plays as well, and a Brunson buzzer-beater sent the Gophers into the halftime break up 31-20.
Coming into Sunday’s game, Minnesota was on a two-game losing streak after blowing significant leads in the second halves of its last two games. The Gophers were able to overcome this trend by outscoring the Spartans 26-23 in the third quarter. Taiye Bello’s all-around play during this period was strong, and Pitts was a spark plug on offense.
Later, the Gophers opened up the fourth quarter on a 8-3 run to secure the game. The final score of the game was 82-63.
Bell became emotional when reflecting on her time playing in the maroon and gold.
“This is like my second family. I wish I could stay longer, but I know that’s not how it works," Bell said. "I just appreciate the time I had with the group of people I made it through with.”
With this win, Minnesota finishes its 2018-19 campaign with a 20-9 overall record, and a 9-9 Big Ten conference record.
Whalen’s team will play Indiana on March 7 in the Big Ten postseason tournament.
“We’re going to play with desperation. Basically any game could be our last, so we’re going to play like that and do it for the seniors,” Pitts said.
Whalen said the team will need to stay focused mentally.
“You take it one game at a time now, and every day will be a new challenge. This conference has been really tough all the way through. Team’s are very close. We feel like we can play with anybody, and we’ve proven that,” said Whalen. “It’s one game at a time, and we get a little rest here, but then we’ll give it everything we have on Thursday, and then go from there.”