Sunday at Williams Arena, the Gophers women's basketball team took another step in another victory.
A 68-63 victory over Wisconsin wasn't a thing of beauty. There were a few too many turnovers. Against the taller, bigger Badgers, the Gophers' win seemed more grind-it-out than it did run-and-gun.
But that's OK.
"I'll take a grind-it-out win every day of the week," Gophers coach Lindsay Whalen said of her team, which has won two games in a row and five of its past seven. "That's the Big Ten."
The Gophers (7-9, 6-8 Big Ten) did what they had to do. Outscored by 24 points in the paint, the Gophers outscored the Badgers by 24 from behind the arc. Forced into a halfcourt game, the Gophers shot just 39%, but they outrebounded the Badgers, got 13 second-chance points and outscored Wisconsin at the free-throw line.
Most important: The Gophers never let Wisconsin go on an extended run. It was a problem earlier in the season; Sunday the Gophers had answers.
"It was just our mind-setto get stops,'' said Sara Scalia, who made five of 12 three-pointers — five of the Gophers' nine threes made — scoring 17 points with three boards, three assists and zero turnovers in 39 minutes. "We held our ground, pulled through in the end."
It happened many times. Here are two: A quick start to the game gave Minnesota an early eight-point lead. The Badgers rallied to within four, but Jasmine Powell (15 points, five assists) had four points in a 6-2 finish to the quarter.
Down 10 early in the second quarter, the Badgers (5-14, 2-14) pulled within a point when Imani Lewis (27 points, 10 rebounds) drove for a score with 2:10 left in the half.
At the other end Scalia hit a three, keying a 5-0 run. Up 12 early in the fourth, the Gophers allowed the Badgers to cut the lead to seven on Lewis' three-point play. But Powell hit eight of 10 free throws down the stretch to seal the game.
And while a victory over a Badgers team that has won only two conference games isn't unexpected, the Badgers were coming off an upset of 12th-ranked Ohio State.
The team seems more poised. Kadi Sissoko, getting comfortable at the power forward position, had 20 points and seven rebounds. She has hit 19 of 26 shots in her past three games, averaging 15.3 points. During their recent 5-2 stretch, Scalia has made 27 of 67 threes (40.3 %) and averaged 18.6 points.
The team could get Gadiva Hubbard — who has missed five games with a sprained ankle — back for Wednesday's game at Rutgers.
For the Gophers to approach .500 in conference play they will have to take further steps. Their victory at Nebraska was the only conference win over a team that had a winning record at the time.
But Whalen said she thinks her team is making progress. "It's the team coming together," she said. "We've had plenty of practices and time together. I mean, this is a huge win for us, to get a couple wins before we go back out on the road."