This time, Lindsay Whalen said, it felt different.
Yes, her Gophers women’s basketball team had squandered a 14-point lead held late in the second quarter. The Gophers had stumbled on the offensive end in the second half, had seen a five-point lead with 5 minutes left in regulation disappear in a Northwestern blitz that put the Wildcats up four with 59 seconds left and the announced 5,475 at Williams Arena all but silenced.
But the Gophers found their game, the fans their voice.
Minnesota scored the final four points of regulation to force overtime, then scored the first nine points in the extra session in a 73-64 victory, their fourth straight, as the fans roared.
Similar scenario, but a plot twist at the end.
“It felt different to me than those other games,” Whalen said, talking about the stretch of seven losses in eight games, when it felt like the Gophers couldn’t play a complete game and struggled to hold second-half leads. “We’re learning how to come together as a team. Sometimes it takes losses to do that. So this one was different. Even down four I still felt pretty good.”
The victory pushed the Gophers, 17-7 overall, to 6-7 in the Big Ten.
Kenisha Bell, playing much of the second half in foul trouble, finished with 24 points, 11 rebounds, five assists and five steals. Her put-back of Destiny Pitts’ missed three-pointer with 7.8 seconds left in regulation tied the score at 58-58. Pitts played all 45 minutes and hit four of 10 three-pointers, scoring 21 points, with seven — all on free throws — coming in overtime.
It may have felt different, but it looked the same as the Gophers struggled with the triangle-and-two defense the Wildcats (14-10, 7-6) threw at them to start the fourth quarter. The Gophers were outscored 34-21 in the second half, 16-8 in the fourth. Jordan Hamilton scored 20 for the Wildcats, Abi Scheid had 18 and Lindsey Pulliam had 10.
Jasmine Brunson hit a shot with 5:10 left in regulation to put the Gophers up five, but Pallas Kunaiyi-Akpanah’s layup started a 9-0 Northwestern run that included Veronica Burton’s three-point play, Scheid’s layup and two free throws by Hamilton with 59 seconds left that put Northwestern up 58-54.
Whalen’s message during the ensuing time out? Stop and score. Stop and score.
Brunson fed Pitts for a jumper with 52 seconds left. At the other end Pulliam, covered by Bell, missed a jumper. Pitts then missed a three, but Bell put it back to tie the score.
Taiye Bello fouled Scheid with 4.9 seconds left, but the Elk River product missed both free throws. The momentum had shifted.
In overtime, Bello scored, then Brunson, then Bell. With 2:12 left Pitts made a free throw, then missed. Kunaiyi-Akpanah got the rebound, but Bell stole her outlet pass and scored to put the Gophers up nine. Pitts then made seven of eight free throws down the stretch.
“We didn’t play our best in the second half,” Pitts said. “We wanted to finish the game out at home.”
Completely different, right?
“Really, we were just tired of losing,” said Brunson, when asked the key to the current four-game win streak. Sunday, after playing all 45 minutes, she was just tired, period. “Working hard in practice, getting extra shots up. We knew if we kept doing that we’d break through eventually. You reach a point where you’re just tired of losing.”