The normally sharp- shooting Gophers women’s basketball team trailed Indiana by five points with under seven minutes left on Thursday at Williams Arena because they had been firing blanks all night.
The Gophers just needed that one play to get them going, coach Pam Borton said.
Sari Noga gave them two.
The senior hit back-to-back three-pointers, igniting a late 13-0 run and helping the Gophers to a 73-62 victory over Indiana in what looked like a must-win game to keep Minnesota’s NCAA tournament hopes alive.
“[Noga] stepped up and was an unbelievable senior, really breathed a lot of confidence into the team,” Borton said. “I thought from there on, we were in the driver’s seat and we weren’t going to lose this lead.”
Noga finished with 12 points.
Redshirt freshman Amanda Zahui B. scored 26 points, tying her season high, and had a career-high 19 rebounds. It was her league-leading 13th double-double of the season on a night when the Gophers surely needed it. If it was Noga who provided the flashy highlights, it was Zahui B. who had the steady, calming performance for the Gophers.
Zahui B. had 13 of her team’s 30 points in the first half, and helped the Gophers keep pace early in the second half as the offense struggled.
The Gophers, who had just eight healthy players, missed 15 of their first 22 shots and looked visibly tired at times, much as they did in recent back-to-back losses against No. 19 Purdue and No. 21 Michigan State.
But, as Borton put it, the Gophers (18-11, 7-8 Big Ten) simply found a way to win.
Indiana led 53-48 with 6:54 left when Rachel Banham drove the lane and kicked the ball out to a wide-open Noga on the left wing.
Bang — the Gophers were within two.
She hit another triple the next time down the floor, and freshman Stabresa McDaniel converted a putback from the lane on the following possession.
“I think everyone was in attack mode after that,” Noga said.
Banham missed six of her first seven shots, but the junior hit a three-pointer of her own during the Gophers’ run and knocked down four late free throws to keep the Hoosiers (18-10, 5-10) from rallying. She finished with 20 points in 38 minutes.
Those points gave her 1,865 for her career, moving her into fourth on the university’s all-time career scoring list.
The Gophers entered Thursday No. 37 in the RPI, but a third consecutive loss would have made the team’s postseason plans very hazy heading into the regular- season finale Sunday.
“I think we’ve just taken care of business and I think it’s really important for us to get our last win there in the regular season,” Borton said. “Our RPI is in the 30s, we have 18 wins. I think if we can go .500 in the Big Ten, we’ll be in great shape, great shape.”