Kiara Buford was the Gophers' go-to player Thursday. And the 5-11 junior guard delivered over and over.
Buford scored a career-high 27 points as Minnesota beat Virginia Tech 63-58 at Williams Arena before an announced crowd of 2,709 in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.
Her biggest points were her final two. With 14.3 seconds left and the Gophers clinging to a 61-58 lead, Buford stepped to the free-throw line for a one-and-one. Swish. Swish. The Hokies then committed their 19th turnover on their last possession.
"It wasn't pretty," Gophers coach Pam Borton said. "It was disappointing that we gave up a 17-point lead in the first half, but we gutted it out and found a way to win."
For the most part, that way was putting the ball in Buford's hands. She was 6-for-8 on free throws and 10-for-18 from the field, including a three-pointer when the Hokies had pulled within 30-29 early in the second half.
Buford also had four rebounds and led both teams in assists (five), steals (three) and minutes (37).
"Kiara did a lot to create her own shots," Borton said. "She does a great job of making plays within our system."
Buford scored 11 points as the Gophers took a 23-6 lead in the first 13 minutes.
"I got a little excited in the beginning because I felt I was open," said Buford, who was averaging 16.6 points. "When we move the ball around and, if I keep my dribble, then I can find seams."
"We needed her to take that many shots tonight," Borton said. "It's obvious."
Nobody else was in double figures for the Gophers, although forward Jackie Voigt had nine points and nine rebounds. "We've got to have more balanced scoring, more balanced play by everybody on this team," Borton said.
Voigt's final rebound came with 21 seconds left and the Gophers ahead 61-58. The Hokies' Nikki Davis missed her second free throw and Voigt grabbed the ball and quickly passed it to Buford. The Hokies fouled her.
"I had to redeem myself from the last game," said Buford, referring to a 71-67 victory over North Carolina State. "I missed a one-and-one free throw."
Actually she missed the front end of two one-and-one trips to the line against the Wolfpack.
Buford should consider herself forgiven.
• Katie Loberg, the Gophers' 6-4 starting center who had missed three earlier games because of an aching knee, played only nine minutes. She suffered an undisclosed injury.