For the first 4 1/2 minutes of Thursday's game against Virginia, everything went right for the Gophers. They hit six shots in a row, including four from three-point range, to cruise to a 10-point lead in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.
Then the Cavaliers switched defenses, put the muscle on the Gophers and took control, racing to a 90-68 victory at Williams Arena.
Virginia (5-1) dominated inside on both offense and defense, holding the Gophers to 22 points in the paint while scoring 44. Their ability to slash through the Gophers' defense and get to the hoop helped the Cavaliers make 59 percent of their shots and draw a flurry of first-half fouls.
Virginia went to the line 17 times in the first half, scoring 13 points off of free throws as they built a 46-34 halftime lead.
The Gophers (6-2) compounded their problems with poor foul shooting, making only three of their first 10 attempts and finishing 12 of 21 from the free-throw line.
They frequently missed layups, too, hitting only 37 percent of their shots in the paint in the face of the Cavaliers' sturdy defense.
Rachel Banham led the Gophers with 21 points but made only seven of 19 shots. The brightest light of the Gophers' night came from Sari Noga, who hit five of six -- including four three-pointers -- to finish with 14 points and a team-high nine rebounds. The Gophers also were outrebounded by Virginia 39-29.
"Our defense couldn't stop anything they were doing,'' Gophers coach Pam Borton said. "We've got to be able to fight back and get position. Our post play was pretty poor on both ends of the floor.''
Led by Noga, who scored 11 of her points in the first 9 minutes, the Gophers made six of their first seven shots to take a 16-6 lead. But when Virginia abandoned the matchup zone and tightened up their defense, the Gophers' fortunes abruptly shifted. They began misfiring and mishandling the ball, allowing the Cavaliers to reel off a 10-point run and take a 20-18 lead.
A three-pointer by Noga and a jumper by Kayla Hirt put the Gophers back on top -- until three consecutive turnovers allowed Virginia to embark on an 11-0 spurt.
That gave the Cavaliers a 31-23 lead. They extended that to 46-34 at the half on the strength of their inside game, their hot shooting and their ability to draw fouls. Virginia outscored the Gophers 24-10 in the paint in the first half and shot 63 percent from the field.
The Gophers hit only two of five foul shots and managed only one field goal in the final 4 minutes, 52 seconds of the first half.
The Cavaliers opened the second half with a 5-0 run to extend their margin and led by as many as 22. Borton lamented that the Gophers were outworked in the post and were not nearly as physical as the Cavaliers, who repeatedly drove to the basket while stopping the Gophers from doing the same.
Gophers forward Micaella Riche made only one of six shots and fouled out with 8:51 left.
"Toughness is one of the biggest things we need to work on,'' Banham said. "That, and a sense of urgency. We need to bring some energy if we want to win.''