INDIANAPOLIS – As the Big Ten tournament quarterfinal progressed for the Gophers women’s basketball team, it began to look more and more like the one they played some 24 hours earlier.
But in the end, the Gophers could not find the magic to overcome Nebraska that they did against Wisconsin — meaning they now have to wait more than a week to find out their NCAA tournament fate.
The Gophers fought to overcome another poor early shooting performance, and it did so — until No. 16 Nebraska went on a tiebreaking 7-0 second-half run in an 80-67 victory at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
“I was really proud of our players for battling tonight.” Gophers coach Pam Borton said. “I thought we played a great 35 minutes.”
As for the other five minutes, Borton exhibited some disappointment, citing the Gophers’ inability to convert on a couple of open layups and short jumpers late that would have pulled them within striking distance of the third-seeded Cornhuskers (23-6).
And so the sixth-seeded Gophers (20-11) will not have another chance to improve their résumé for the NCAA tournament. Borton said she believed her team had done enough for an invitation following Thursday’s first-round overtime victory over the Badgers.
Nebraska coach Connie Yori made an unprovoked statement before she got up from her postgame news conference.
“I think Minnesota deserves to be in the NCAA tournament,” Yori said. “They have played well down the stretch, and got a win yesterday. With the strength of our league and their RPI, they need to be in the NCAA tournament.”
The 64-team field will be announced March 17.
Jordan Hooper, the Big Ten Player of the Year, had a game-high 33 points and 12 rebounds for Nebraska (23-6), which led 31-22 in the first half before the Gophers recovered. Rachel Theriot added 14 points and 18 assists, breaking the tournament single-game assists record by six.
Gophers freshman Stabresa McDaniel finished with a team-high 14 points on 7-for-19 shooting. All-Big Ten point guard Rachel Banham added 12, but only four came in the second half.
Yori said she gameplanned to try and take away Banham’s offensive strengths.
“Halie Sample did a good job of face-guarding me and playing over the screen,” said Banham, who shot 4-for-12 from the floor. “So even if I popped there, it wasn’t very open. They did a good job of plugging the lane when I put the ball down.”
The Huskers’ decisive run came with the score tied at 52-52 with 12 minutes to go. Hooper made a jumper and a three-pointer before Emily Cady’s basket put Nebraska up 59-52.
Micaëlla Riché broke Nebraska’s run with baskets on back-to-back Gophers possessions, but that was quickly followed up with a 13-3 Huskers run that put the game away.
Riché played a little more than normal because Amanda Zahui B.’s foul trouble limited the freshman to 19 minutes.
“I thought Micaëlla Riché did a great job coming in and really filling a role and scoring for us inside and just really played smart defensively,” Borton said.
Her words were not so kind about her starting center.
“She came in and scored a couple of baskets, but she didn’t defend very well,” Borton said. “I really thought Amanda got out of her flow, and I thought she hurt us defensively tonight. Just got to play smarter so she can stay in the game.”