COLLEGE PARK, MD. – The Gophers women’s basketball team was on its way to a night to remember at No. 8 Maryland on Thursday.
Instead, it closed with a minute it would just as soon forget.
The Terrapins scored the game’s last nine points in the final 50.2 seconds, including the winning basket in the final second, to escape with a 71-69 victory that ended the Gophers’ six-game winning streak.
“They outphysicaled us in a couple possessions,” coach Lindsay Whalen said. “It comes down to making those plays in the last minute. End-of-game execution. Obviously, we have to work on that.”
Destiny Pitts scored 24 points and Kenisha Bell added 23 for the Gophers (19-8, 8-8 Big Ten), which didn’t trail until Kaila Charles’ winning layup with 0.9 seconds remaining.
Charles scored 29 for the Big Ten-leading Terrapins (24-3, 13-3), who claimed the first coaching matchup between Whalen and Maryland’s Brenda Frese. Whalen earned Big Ten player of the year honors in 2001-02 while playing under Frese (then known as Brenda Oldfield), who parlayed a one-season turnaround of the Gophers into the Maryland job.
“Once the ball’s tipped it’s kind of a chess match,” Frese said. “You’re just trying to maneuver. She’s instilled a ton of confidence in her team. I thought they were tremendous with their game plan and how aggressive they were when they attacked us off the bounce. Tough way to lose when you’re going against a former player that you’ve coached, but again, once the ball’s tipped, you’ve got two really competitive people on the sidelines.”
For nearly the entire game, the Gophers appeared on their way to their 20th victory and their first road defeat of a ranked team since 2009.
Pitts and Bell combined for 34 points in the first half as Minnesota built a nine-point lead. And while Frese’s decision to switch to a triangle-and-two slowed the Gophers, Minnesota still stymied the Terrapins offense until the final minute.
“We put them in some tough spots,” Whalen said. “I thought we guarded well for the most part until the fourth. We just had some guys who were finishing at the basket.”
Charles’ layup with 50.2 seconds left pulled Maryland within 69-64, and Pitts was then called for an offensive foul more than 80 feet from the basket to end her night. Stephanie Jones’ three-point play moments later pulled Maryland within two, and Charles scored on a drive with 6.6 seconds to go to tie it.
After Minnesota used its final timeout, Maryland’s Shakira Austin tipped Jasmine Brunson’s inbound pass. Charles collected it near midcourt and raced to the basket for the go-ahead score.
“I just felt we needed to stay poised,” Bell said. “We didn’t stay poised in the last minute and it cost us the game.”
And with that, the Gophers were dealt their first loss since Jan. 28, and in unusually wrenching fashion.
“I told them nights like this really sting, and it should hurt,” Whalen said. “It should hurt, right? Because we put so much into it this last stretch. We have two games left and onward from here. It’s a good team that beat us, but we’ve given everything we have.”