Sunday at Williams Arena against a very physical Rutgers team, the Gophers women’s basketball team:
• Made only 18 of 56 shots;
• Turned the ball over a season-high 26 times, leading to 29 Rutgers points;
• Lost starting point guard Jasmine Brunson to a first-half injury.
Oh, and won.
In a gritty marathon that stretched into two overtimes, the Gophers scratched out a 73-71 victory, mainly for one reason:
“She does what she wants to on us,” said Rutgers coach C. Vivian Stringer, who has watched Bello accumulate 41 rebounds in the past three games between the two teams. “Bello was a grown lady out here today.”
Said Gophers coach Lindsay Whalen, “She willed us to win.”
First, the numbers: Bello finished with 22 rebounds, 19 free throws attempted and 15 made. All were career highs. She also had 19 points, four blocks and three assists.
And now the drama: Bello hit two free throws with 3.7 seconds left in regulation to tie the score and force the first overtime. She had a put-back of Jasmine Powell’s miss with 34 seconds left in the first OT to force a second. Then she scored five points with three rebounds in the second OT. All five points came from the line, including three after she was fouled heaving up a desperation three-pointer with the shot clock winding down with 3:17 left. Bello had never attempt a three-pointer in her first 112 college games.
Indeed, on a day dominated by defense, the Gophers prevailed without hitting a field goal in the final OT, because they held Rutgers to 3-for-16 shooting with two turnovers in the two overtimes.
“That’s all heart and determination,” Whalen said of her team’s defense, which never flagged, even in the face of occasional offensive dysfunction. “Without that, we’re not sitting here with the win tonight.”
Freshman guard Powell tied for the team lead with 19 points. She was forced to play 46½ minutes, including the final 30 with Brunson hurt. And that meant facing Rutgers’ fearsome full-court press. Gadiva Hubbard scored 11 of her 17 points in the fourth quarter, when the Gophers came back from seven down to force OT.
The Gophers were down seven with 4:49 left in regulation. But in their best sustained stretch of offense, they closed on a 15-8 run that included three threes by Hubbard. Khadaizha Sanders (17 points) hit one of two free throws with 3.9 seconds left. Sara Scalia launched a long pass to Bello, who was fouled by Sanders trying to catch it. The 6-2 senior forward went to the line and hit both free throws.
The Scarlet Knights scored the first four points of the first OT, all on free throws by Arella Guirantes. But they didn’t score over the final 3:57 of the period. Bello tied it on the put-back, and in the second OT, she scored five of her team’s 12 points.
“It’s just wanting it more,” said Bello, whose 19 free-throw attempts are the second-most in Gophers history. “It’s just having that synergy with your teammates. Just saying, ‘This is our game.’ ”
It was the second victory in a row for the Gophers (14-8, 4-7 Big Ten). Rutgers (16-5, 6-4) has lost three of its past four.
Bello? It was a career night. “I don’t even know what to say,” Hubbard said. “She willed us to this win. The put-back at the end, the free throws? All the rebounds? She saved us.”