INDIANAPOLIS – The first punch was a roundhouse, a hard hit to the gut by an Indiana team, playing an hour from home, on the floor of Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
It sent the Gophers reeling.
And they never really recovered. Down 10 with the game barely eight minutes old, down 15 in the second quarter, the Gophers women’s basketball team played hard but never got all the way back in a 66-58 loss to the Hoosiers in a second-round game of the Big Ten tournament.
Frustrated by a defense that dared them to beat the Hoosiers from the outside, the Gophers (20-10) did a one-and-done at the tournament and will head home to await their postseason fate. Odds are that will include a bid to the Women’s NIT tournament.
“Give them credit,’’ Gophers coach Lindsay Whalen said. “They came out and punched first. And for us, unfortunately, it was too much to come back from.’’
The Hoosiers (20-11) scored 18 points in the paint while taking a 10-point lead into the second quarter. They then made their first five three-pointers while pushing that lead to 15 late in the first half.
The Gophers cut the lead to seven in the third before Indiana pulled away. In the fourth, a quick defense-fueled run got the Gophers within 62-56 on two free throws by Destiny Pitts.
But no closer.
The hole the Gophers dug at the game’s start was too much in the end.
“We weren’t hitting shots,’’ said senior guard Kenisha Bell of the start of the game. “And they were coming down getting every shot they wanted. We didn’t play the defense we usually play.’’
Said Pitts: “We let our offense dictate our defense. And we’re used to it being the other way around.’’
Indiana guard Ali Patberg scored 20 points on 7-for-12 shooting, with seven rebounds and four assists. Forward Brenna Wise hit three of four three-pointers on the way to 19 points.
But it was the Hoosiers defense that made the difference. Determined to force the Gophers to beat them from the outside, they packed the paint.
“We call it ‘Wall Up,’ ” Indiana coach Teri Moren said. “Bring as many defenders as we can, not make it easy for Bell to get to the basket.’’
It worked. Guarded by Bendu Yeaney much of the night — with help, in the paint, by seemingly a cast of thousands — Bell scored 15 points but made only five of 23 shots. Battling foul trouble much of the game, Pitts scored a game-high 25 points but made only eight of 21 shots.
She was 0-for-7 on three-pointers.
The Gophers, as a team, made one of 15 threes, allowing Indiana to keep packing the paint all game.
“Everyone was trying to make a play, at a certain point,” Whalen said. “And we got a little frustrated, and we weren’t able to make some of those reads to get it to the open player.”
Frustration was a word being used a lot by the Gophers. They made all 17 of their free throws, had an edge in scoring in the paint and on second-chance points. But they just couldn’t hit enough shots to draw the Hoosiers away from the basket.
“It’s definitely frustrating,” said Pitts, who scored 20 or more points for the seventh consecutive game. “I know how good a team we are. It’s hard not to get the success we wanted.”
And now the Gophers will have to wait a while to find out where — and when — they play next.
“I’m looking forward to anything,” Bell said.
“I definitely would hope it’d be NCAA before anything. But if I could get another shot of playing with the group we’ve got, I’ll take it.”