Lindsay Whalen narrowed her focus this week.
The Gophers women's basketball team had lost two one-sided games out East. With two days of practice to prepare for Wednesday's game with Nebraska, the Gophers coach decided the team was going to work on one thing.
All of Monday, it was defense. Most of Tuesday, the same. And on Wednesday it was defense that allowed the Gophers to beat Nebraska 73-63 at Williams Arena. With the score tied 62-62 with 3 minutes, 43 seconds left, the Gophers held Nebraska to 0-for-5 shooting with two turnovers thereafter while finishing on an 11-1 run.
"Honestly, I don't think we worked on offense at all the past couple days," Gadiva Hubbard said. She scored 14 points, one of five Gophers players in double figures. "We knew we can score. It's the defensive end. And it carried over into the game today."
The Gophers (8-11, 7-10 Big Ten) were playing without point guard Jasmine Powell, out with a sprained left ankle. Kadi Sissoko was limited to two points and six minutes while battling foul trouble through three quarters. Sara Scalia made just two of 11 shots but might have been the most impactful player on the team. Handling the ball more than ever, she had eight assists, seven rebounds and zero turnovers. And it was Scalia who was guarding Nebraska star Sam Haiby (22) down the stretch.
"Since we got back from the East Coast we talked about being the tougher team," Whalen said. "Locking in defensively. Doing everything you can on every possession to impose your will. That held true to the end."
While completing the season sweep of Nebraska (11-10, 9-9), the Gophers held the Huskers to 38.9% shooting and to just 12 points on 4-for-16 shooting in the fourth quarter.
Offensively, the balance was striking. Nine players scored for the Gophers. Hubbard, Klarke Sconiers (14), Scalia (11) and Sissoko — who scored eight of her 10 points in the fourth quarter — were in double figures. But no one player dominated. Kayla Merson led the team in scoring in the first quarter, Sconiers in the second, Sconiers and Laura Bagwell-Katalinich in the third, Sissoko in the fourth.
The score was tied at 62-62 on Haiby's three-point play with 3:43 left. Out of a timeout, with the Gophers locking down on the defensive end, Mershon scored, then Sisoko, twice. Then the Gophers hit five of six free throws down the stretch; Alexia Smith's free throw with 20 seconds left gave the Gophers their biggest lead of the game at 10 points.
Nebraska had won two in a row, including an upset of then-No. 24 Northwestern. Isabelle Bourne was named the conference's player of the week on Monday. With three players taking turns guarding her, Bourne scored seven points on 3-for-11 shooting. It was, in many ways, the Gophers best win of the year. Minnesota had a 12-0 edge on second-chance points, won the rebounding battle, held Nebraska to 18 points in the paint while leading in this game all but 98 seconds.
"We were just tough tonight," Whalen said. "We stayed poised throughout."