INDIANAPOLIS – About three minutes remained in the best quarter the Gophers women’s basketball team has played this season when Taiye Bello took a pass from senior guard Jasmine Brunson in the post, turned, scored … and lost her shoe.
Play continued. So Bello, on one shoe and one sock, ran down and played defense. Someone on the Gophers bench — nobody was saying who — picked up the senior forward’s gold sneaker and threw it on the court. Coach Lindsay Whalen had to run out and grab it before freshman guard Jasmine Powell, having forced yet another turnover, came racing down for a fast-break layup.
To be honest, what should have been thrown out on the floor was a white flag, and it should have come from the Penn State bench. Down five at halftime, the Gophers blitzed the Nittany Lions with a 30-13 third quarter — the team’s biggest of the season — on the way to an 85-65 victory in the first round of the Big Ten Conference tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
“We got down and defended,” Whalen said when asked what happened between the end of a lackluster first half and the start of a dynamic second to help break a six-game losing streak.
Perhaps a bit more than that. Talk in the postgame locker room was about how intense the halftime talk was. Brunson, who scored a career-high 20 points, called the halftime locker room “loud,’’ referring specifically to Whalen and assistant coach Carly Thibault-DuDonis.
“Coach Whay and Coach Carly definitely got into us a little bit,” Brunson said. “We feed off that, and we actually needed it.”
Added junior guard Gadiva Hubbard: “They were saying nothing but the truth.”
The truth was, in the first half, the 11th-seeded Gophers (16-14) were letting guards Kamaria McDaniel and Siyeh Frazier get whatever they wanted, and it trickled down the lineup for the 14th-seeded Lions (7-23). The pair had 21 points, five assists and four steals in the first half. In the second half, the Gophers limited them to 16 points, zero assists and zero steals.
Penn State got the first bucket of the third quarter to go up seven. Over the next seven-plus minutes it was all Minnesota in a 28-7 run as the Gophers went up 14. The Lions got two quick buckets but, as time in the quarter ticked away, Powell hit a step-back jumper to push the lead to 67-55 entering the fourth. Hubbard (16 points) opened the fourth with a three-pointer and Minnesota never lost control, outscoring Penn State 48-23 in the final 20 minutes.
Bell and Powell each had 16 points for the Gophers, each getting eight in the third. Brunson had six in the quarter, Hubbard five. Minnesota shot 11-for-16 in the third quarter and 19-for-32 in the second half while holding Penn State to 23 second-half points on 9-for-25 shooting.
“That’s the name of the game,” Whalen said. “To get stops and run, play in more broken-floor situations. Against a team like that with two dynamic players, it’s all about getting to them, making them kick to somebody else.”
And it’s all about playing out of your mind. Or your shoe. Bello’s 13 rebounds gave her 1,001 for her career, the fifth player in program history to pass that mark. She remains 33 points shy of 1,000. And now the Gophers get sixth-seeded Ohio State on Thursday, starting at approximately 8 p.m.
“It’s a new day and a new game,” Whalen said. “We’re excited to be moving on.”