“Resilient” was one way Gophers women’s basketball coach Pam Borton described it.
“Better late than never” was another.
But the coach wasn’t quite as concerned with the adjectives as she was with the bottom line:
Minnesota 66, Illinois 61.
“We did a great job of just figuring it out at the end,” Borton said.
Trailing by six with 3 minutes, 45 seconds remaining, the Gophers closed the game on a 14-3 run, salvaging a victory on an otherwise ugly Sunday afternoon at Williams Arena.
Rachel Banham led all scorers with 24 points, and Amanda Zahui B. had 23 points and 12 rebounds for her Big Ten-leading 11th double-double.
But, of course, there are always two sides to a comeback win: the strong play to seal the victory, and the earlier struggles that put it in doubt.
And the Gophers struggled offensively for long stretches in the game, including a seven-minute stretch without a field goal in the first half. They missed a number of relatively open shots (they shot 37.9 percent before halftime) and turned the ball over 21 times in the game.
But they closed down the stretch.
Zahui B. scored eight points in the game’s final 2:24, and Banham was 4-for-5 on three-pointers in the second half.
Overall, the Gophers (15-9, 4-6 Big Ten) were 13-for-21 from the floor after the break, and they outscored Illinois 34-12 in the paint.
“I thought [Illinois] did a great job switching up defenses the whole game, giving us different looks,” Borton said. “I think if we could’ve figured that out a little sooner, we would’ve had a little more point spread here.”
Defense wasn’t an issue: The Illini shot only 35.1 percent, and Zahui B. had three blocks, giving her a Gophers single-season record with 68. Janel McCarville set the previous record of 65 in 2003-04.
For a stretch, though, Zahui B.’s record could’ve served as the lone highlight for Minnesota.
The Gophers jumped to an 11-2 lead but made only two field goals over the final 10 minutes of the half, watching a nine-point lead turn into a one-point deficit at the break.
And Illinois (9-15, 2-9) kept the momentum going in the second half. The Gophers trailed by as many as seven before Banham drove baseline and hit Stabressa McDaniel for an easy basket, cutting the deficit to 46-41 with 8:19 remaining.
Banham then scored the Gophers’ next six points before Zahui B. took over down the stretch. After going 3-for-12 in the first half, Banham finished 8-for-19 from the floor, and 5-for-11 from behind the arc.
“I’ve just got to keep shooting it, whether they’re going in or not, because I know it’s going to help our team,” Banham said.