The pressure seemed to be lifted.
Gophers players were describing the atmosphere around the team as relaxed, confident even. They talked about, finally, feeling comfortable in their respective roles.
That’s what four consecutive victories will do for a team that just a month ago was 2-6 in Big Ten play.
Three of those recent victories came on the road, three came despite trailing at halftime, and all four came with key players out because of injuries.
The Gophers kept finding ways to win.
After beating Northwestern by 18 points Saturday with just seven players available, the Gophers had climbed to .500 in the Big Ten and moved up to No. 30 in the RPI rankings. A berth in the NCAA tournament appeared to be within the team’s grasp.
Then No. 21 Purdue came to Williams Arena on Thursday.
And the Little Team That Could finally ran out of steam.
The Gophers shot a season-low 26.8 percent, were outrebounded 55-32 and fell 63-42 to the Boilermakers.
Again playing with just seven players available, the Gophers were visibly gassed in the second half. Five Gophers played at least 29 minutes in a physical, difficult matchup.
“It’s a grind and it’s the end of the Big Ten season,” coach Pam Borton said, shrugging off the loss as simply “one of those nights.”
“We just didn’t have it offensively,” she added.
The Boilermakers shot only slightly better at 34.9 percent, but a quick start — they led by as many as 15 points in the opening 10 minutes — and 27 points from Courtney Moses enabled them to pull away.
The Gophers (17-10, 6-7 Big Ten) struggled from start to finish.
Apart from senior Sari Noga, who scored 15 points, it was difficult to find any bright spots on offense.
Rachel Banham, who has played all but four minutes over the past five games, missed her first 14 shots. She finished 1-for-17 shooting (0-for-8 on three-pointers) and had eight points.
Center Amanda Zahui B. scored 10 points and had just seven rebounds in 29 minutes.
Still, the loss shouldn’t hurt the Gophers’ postseason hopes dramatically. Purdue (19-7, 9-5) is No. 9 in the RPI.
Many national prognosticators have the Gophers sitting on the right side of the NCAA tournament bubble, and the consensus seems to be that an 8-8 league record would be enough to get the Gophers into the Big Dance for the first time since the 2008-09 season.
But that still means winning two of their final three conference games.
On Monday, the Gophers play at No. 23 Michigan State, a team that thumped Minnesota 81-56 at the Barn on Jan. 4. Then they finish with home games against Indiana and Ohio State.
Indiana, by most predictions, would be one of the final teams left out of the NCAA field if the selections were being made today. The Hoosiers beat the Gophers 83-79 in overtime Jan. 19.
“We have some really tough games there back to back, and we just have to keep fighting, stay positive and stay together,” Borton said.