Going into Wednesday’s game against No. 8 Florida State, Gophers coach Marlene Stollings viewed the matchup against a top-10 foe as an important measuring stick for her team. “It’s a good challenge for us,’’ she said. “We upgraded the schedule for this very reason, to see where we’re at and where we’re headed in terms of the big picture.’’
She didn’t get the view she hoped for in a 75-61 loss at Williams Arena. After starting the season 4-0, the Gophers dropped their third game in a row, falling victim to poor shooting and even worse rebounding in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. The Seminoles (7-1) overpowered the Gophers with a multifaceted offense and a high-energy defense, outrebounding them 51-32 and holding them to 34 percent shooting.
Florida State rolled to a 56-38 lead as it shot at a 68 percent clip through the first half. Four players scored in double figures for a deep team that connected from inside and outside, led by freshman Nicole Ekhomu, who finished with 16 points. Ivey Slaughter added 14 points and had 10 rebounds for the Seminoles, who converted 23 offensive boards into 18 points.
The Gophers (4-3) couldn’t make up much ground, even as the Seminoles scored only two points in the fourth quarter. After seeing how they measured up against a team that advanced to the Sweet 16 in last year’s NCAA tournament, guard Carlie Wagner said the Gophers can’t waste any time in moving forward.
“We just really need to take what we’ve learned from these games and apply it,’’ said Wagner, who finished with 15 points. “Rebounding is one thing we’re going to have to work on, and that’s just heart. We’ve got to come out and play for 40 minutes with physicality and toughness and aggressiveness.’’
Florida State’s only loss this season came by two points to UConn, then ranked No. 3. Coach Sue Semrau pointed out to her players that the Gophers averaged 47 rebounds entering Wednesday’s game and challenged them to pick up their own pace.
“We knew it would be a battle on the boards, and we haven’t been at the same form we were last year,’’ she said of the Seminoles, who averaged 38 rebounds in their first seven games. “It was something we felt like we could grow coming into this game.’’
The Gophers fell into a hole early when Imani Wright opened the game with a trio of three-pointers, interrupted only by Wagner’s driving layup. The Seminoles’ quickness and rapid-fire ball movement proved too much for the Gophers defense.
The Gophers struggled just as mightily on the other end. Florida State’s speedy, assertive defense blocked six shots and crushed them on the boards.
The Gophers shot only 38 percent in the first half and missed 10 of 16 shots in the paint. They were worse in the second half, shooting 29 percent and failing to make a field goal in the final five minutes.
In the second half, the Gophers did not make a three-point shot and hit only 60 percent of their free throws. Kenisha Bell led the Gophers with 17 points but made just five of 15 shots.
“We’re certainly disappointed that we didn’t handle their physicality and rebound better,’’ Stollings said. “We have to keep working on the physical part of the game. We’ve got to regroup and get back after it quickly.”