It wasn’t long ago that Gophers women’s basketball coach Lindsay Whalen said she was determined the midwinter slump of a season ago wouldn’t be repeated.
So far, not so good.
Thursday night at Williams Arena the Gophers lost their third straight conference game, this time 56-54 to a surprisingly strong Northwestern team that got 24 points from Elk River native Abi Scheid.
After Jasmine Brunson tied the score with a three-pointer with 4.7 seconds left, the Wildcats got the win when, out of a timeout, Veronica Burton got penetration, then passed the ball to Lindsay Pulliam for a wide-open layup with 0.6 seconds left. Pulliman finished with 13 points.
On a night when the Gophers defense did enough to win until the end, the offense let them down.
“I’m proud of the way we battled,’’ Whalen said. “They averaged 70 [points] and we held them to 56. We met one of our goals.’’
The Gophers shot 40.1% while posting their lowest scoring total of the season. They had more turnovers (21) than they did baskets (20). After pulling within two on two free throws by Gadiva Hubbard with 3:27 left, the Gophers only scored four more points the rest of the way.
Hubbard finished with 13 points and six assists. Taiye Bello had 12 points and nine rebounds. Destiny Pitts had 11 points and six rebounds.
Even a defense that forced 13 turnovers and held the Wildcats (13-2, 3-1 Big Ten) to 40.4% shooting wasn’t enough on a night when the Gophers struggled again to find an offensive flow. The Gophers (11-4, 1-3) held Northwestern to just six points over the final seven-plus minutes of the fourth quarter but just couldn’t muster enough offense to make it matter.
The Gophers will have to find a way to find their offense.
“Just getting shots up before and after practice,’’ Hubbard said. “I tried to get some up before and after shootaround today. It’s having more confidence.’’
But the Gophers did battle back. Minnesota was down 50-40 after Scheid’s three-pointer with 7:05 left in the game.
Bello got the rally started. She scored on a jumper. After a Wildcats miss, she scored again. With 5:07 left, she got an offensive rebound and scored again to pull the Gophers within four.
The Wildcats scored, but Hubbard answered. With 3:27 on the clock, Hubbard made two free throws and it was a two-point game.
But the Gophers scored just four points and made one basket the rest of the way.
Still, they had a chance.
Hubbard made one of two free throws with 47.8 seconds left to pull Minnesota within three. At the other end, Burton missed two free throws with 19.4 seconds left.
The Gophers nearly turned the ball over on the ensuing possession, but Brunson tracked the ball down in the backcourt, dribbled into the zone and calmly hit the three to tie the game.
The Gophers now have just a few days to work on things before playing at Illinois on Sunday.
Asked what it will take to get the offense going, Bello said, “I don’t really know how to answer that. I feel like we’ve been back to the drawing board a couple times.”