For about 35 minutes, it wasn't the Gophers women's basketball team's most glamorous night in Dinkytown. Coach Pam Borton described it more bluntly.
"It was a really ugly game," she said.
After swapping leads and letting 10th-place Illinois hang around, the Gophers -- who committed 27 turnovers -- stepped up with an 11-0 run to seal a 60-53 victory Thursday in their final home game of the season.
"The last five minutes of the game really says it all," Borton said after the Gophers (14-14, 6-8 Big Ten) won before an announced 3,230 at Williams Arena. "Our team really toughed it out, proved to ourselves that we can win an ugly game."
Tough, clutch -- and maybe even a bit of ugliness. That's what the Gophers will need in the stretch run. That's what they got Thursday.
Kiara Buford's reverse layup gave the Gophers a 47-45 lead with 4:15 to play. Kionna Kellogg followed with a three-point play and another quick basket before Rachel Banham drained a bomb to ignite the crowd and put the Gophers up by nine with less than two minutes to play. The defense came up with stops and rebounds to help build the momentum.
Banham led the Gophers with 19 points. Buford, on senior night, scored 12 points with seven rebounds, five assists and three steals.
It was a win, but a sloppy one nonetheless. The Gophers, who came in averaging 16.1 turnovers per game, committed 14 in the first half alone before finishing with 27. Illinois (10-17, 4-10) had 20 of their own.
Four Illini players finished in double figures. Adrienne Godbold and Lydia McCully each scored 13. Reigning Big Ten player of the week Karisma Penn and Amber Moore added 10 each.
Minnesota led 11-6 early before Illinois managed two quick scores off Gophers blunders, sparking a 17-2 run that put the Illini up 22-13 midway through the first half. The Gophers would piece together a late first-half rally behind Buford's four points in the final minute to enter the break up 26-25.
Illinois shot only 26.7 percent and went 0-for-6 from three-point land in the first half. It was back-and-forth throughout much of the second half before the Gophers pulled away late.
Senior Jackie Voigt came off the bench, registering four points and four rebounds in 22 minutes of action. She had missed six games after suffering a concussion at Nebraska on Jan. 22.
The Gophers will miss their home arena, where they posted an 11-4 record this season, including all six of their conference victories. They still have a chance to reach .500 in Big Ten play, with two regular-season games remaining: against No. 9 Ohio State and No. 12 Penn State. Not only are those two teams the top two in the conference, but both games are on the road, where the Gophers have had their struggles.
Tough, ugly or otherwise, it's a tall order.
"I don't think we care how the game looks like other than we get the 'W' in the win column at the end," Borton said.