CINCINNATI – Lindsay Whalen’s first year as Gophers women’s basketball coach is one for the books.
The Gophers were outscored 24-12 in the fourth quarter and lost to Cincinnati 72-65 on Sunday afternoon at Fifth Third Arena in the second round of the women’s NIT.
Whalen and the Gophers finished a season at 21-11 and said goodbye to four seniors: Kenisha Bell, Annalese Lamke, Irene Garrido Perez and Palma Kaposi.
Bell scored 25 points in her final game and now directs her attention to a possible WNBA career. Perez, making her 14th consecutive (and career) start, scored 11 points and made three three-pointers. She had nine points by halftime, when the Gophers led 36-29.
“They were the start of something that’s going to be great in the future,” assistant coach Carly Thibault-Dudonis said of the senior class in a postgame radio interview. “It’s just the beginning.”
Thibault-Dudonis said Whalen “found what buttons to push” during the course of the season, which included a six-game winning streak during Big Ten play.
Bell, a consensus first-team All-Big Ten selection the past two seasons, finishes her Gophers career fifth in scoring average (18.5), eighth in points and third in free throws made and attempted. All that was done in three seasons.
Sunday was her 15th game of the season with 20 points or more.
Destiny Pitts closed out a strong sophomore season with 10 points, ending her streak of eight consecutive games with at least 21 points.
Jasmine Brunson missed her second consecutive game and did not travel with the team. Mercedes Staples replaced her again in the starting lineup. The Gophers used only seven players.
Pitts and Brunson return next season, as do leading rebounder Taiye Bello and guard Gadiva Hubbard, who missed the entire 2018-19 season after starting 31 games as a sophomore.
Next year’s incoming class includes Sara Scalia, an All-Metro guard from Stillwater, and guard Jasmine Powell of Detroit Country Day High School, Pitts’ alma mater.
Sunday’s game was the first meeting ever between the Gophers and the Bearcats. Cincinnati (23-10) set a program record with its 16th home win of the season and tied the school mark for victories overall. It will host Butler in the Sweet 16 on Thursday.
The Gophers led 53-48 going into the fourth before the Bearcats’ 10-2 run.
Antoinette Miller led Cincinnati with 20 points, and Sam Rodgers had a career-high 18, making three of five from three-point range. Angel Rizor had 11 points and a career-high 14 rebounds.
Cincinnati outrebounded the Gophers 46-32.