The Gophers lost their game Wednesday at Williams Arena. But they may have found an offensive post presence.
Her name is Alanna Micheaux, a freshman from Michigan. A broad-shouldered, strong 6-2 forward who goes by her middle name, Rose. She had the best game of her young career against an undefeated North Carolina team that came into the game with the second-best defense in the nation.
Micheaux made 8 of 10 shots. She scored 23 points, got seven rebounds, drew five fouls. At one point she almost single-handedly brought the Gophers back.
But it wasn't enough in an 82-76 loss that dropped the Gophers to 6-4 with Big Ten Conference play about to commence.
"She has some of the best touch I've seen around the basket, around the paint,'' Gophers coach Lindsay Whalen said. "That was a heck of a game for her. Timing, positioning, getting to her spots. To be able to score through people, that's something she's worked on a lot.''
And it was almost enough in a game in which it felt like the Gophers were walking uphill all night. The Tar Heels (6-0) would jump ahead, the Gophers would claw back.
Down 10 at the half and by 11 early in the third, the Gophers got six points from Micheaux and Deja Winters (17 points) to take a brief one-point lead on Gadiva Hubbard's drive.
But a 12-2 North Carolina run that started with Deja Kelly's buzzer-beating three from behind the center stripe to end the third quarter put the Tar Heels back up 10 early in the fourth. Winters' three-point play started an 8-0 run that brought the Gophers within two with four-plus minutes left, but the Gophers couldn't get closer.
"We hung in there, but we didn't make enough plays to win,'' Whalen said. "It's getting that stop, that rebound.''
There were some good signs. The Tar Heels came in with the second-best shooting percentage defense in the nation and held the Gophers to 29% shooting and 29 first-half points. In the second half, the Gophers scored 47 points and shot 48.5%. Much of that was because of Micheaux.
"It really boosted my confidence,'' Micheaux said. "My teammates helped me out a lot. They helped me get more comfortable, I couldn't have done it without them, setting up the plays, telling me what screens to set.''
Hubbard finished with 14 points, Kadi Sissoko 11. North Carolina had six players score in double figures, led by Alyssa Ustby of Rochester (19) and Kelly (15).
But for all the positive signs — the Gophers' grit to come back multiple times, the improved offensive flow in the second half — it was still a loss in a home game the Gophers could have won.
"We could have given a little more,'' Winters said. "I think maybe sometimes we may have taken possessions off, defensively, maybe. Especially me. I'll be thinking about that.''
There won't be a lot of time. The Gophers open Big Ten play Monday against Nebraska. The good news is they may have found an offensive threat down low in Micheaux who has the kind of rugged game that will fit well with the Big Ten.
"Look at the bigs in our conference,'' Whalen said. "There are a lot of really talented ones. It's every night. Every night there is somebody. But no question I'm excited for her to go through this first run in the Big Ten season.''
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