The Gophers women’s basketball team was trailing by 12, at home, to Montana State on Saturday afternoon. The Bobcats had just opened the second half with an 11-2 run with 6:08 left in the quarter. Gophers coach Lindsay Whalen called a timeout.
Her message: It’s now or never.
Her decision: Stop switching on defense, let freshman guard Jasmine Powell and/or Jasmine Brunson harass whichever Bobcats guard was running the point, and extend the defense a full 94 feet.
“It just came to that point for us,’’ Whalen said. Then she nodded at Destiny Pitts to her right and Powell to her left. “These two guys here really led the way. At both ends of the floor.’’
On the next possession Powell fed Pitts for a three-pointer. That was the start of a 36-13 run over the final 16 minutes that gave the Gophers a 71-60 win.
Everything, in this game, can be sorted into before that timeout and after.
Before the Bobcats were shooting 18-for-36 overall and 6-for-12 on three-pointers. Fifty percent. After: Just 4-for-22, 0-for-7.
Before the Gophers were shooting 13-for-38, 3-for-13 on three-pointers and had made six of 11 free throws with 10 turnovers. After? Nine for 23 overall, 3-for-11 on threes, 15-for-17 on free throws with three turnovers.
Pitts finished with 26 points for the Gophers (4-1), Powell 14. Taiye Bello had 11 points and 14 rebounds. Pitts and Powell — high school teammates at Detroit Country Day School who won a Michigan high school title together — were a combined 3-for-13 with 10 points before that timeout, 7-for-16 from the field and 13-for-14 on free throws after.
“Our job was to disrupt what they were doing offensively,’’ Powell said. “I knew we were struggling on the defensive end. That’s not what we do. So I knew it had to start with defense. I knew I needed to change the game by making No. 2 do something else than what she was doing. Because she was making the team go.”
No. 2 would be Bobcats guard Darian White. She and fellow guard Oliana Squires had 24 points and five assists while Montana State (3-2) built that 12-point lead. They combined for four points after the timeout.
Before the game Pitts was honored for having become the 24th player in program history to score 1,000 points. She struggled early. But she had 10 points in a 12-3 Gophers run to end the third quarter and nine in the fourth.
Powell drove the lane to open the fourth, was fouled and hit the free throw to put the Gophers up for good, 55-54. She and Pitts scored 18 of the Gophers’ 24 fourth-quarter points.
“Her on-ball defense and full-court pressure was great,” Pitts said. “If you see someone playing that hard on defense, on the ball, leading the way, it’s going to pick up everybody else’s intensity.”