The Gophers women's basketball team proved a couple of things Thursday afternoon at Williams Arena:
• The Gophers can win without their best player, Destiny Pitts, even taking a shot through the first three quarters.
• They can win — in this case 77-61 over visiting Wisconsin-Milwaukee — even when shooting barely over 34 % from the field.
The Gophers (2-1) won their second straight game with two halves on either side of the spectrum: They shot 21% in the first quarter and 31% in the first half while falling behind by two points. But they opened the second half on a 13-0 run and never trailed again, in the process showing there may be more depth on the roster than there was a year ago.
"We hung with it," coach Lindsay Whalen said. "Second half, they were tremendous. It was kind of a tale of two halves for us. But we were really good in the second half."
The Gophers shot 43% while outscoring the Panthers (1-2) 46-28 over the final 20 minutes. But the reason the Gophers won despite making just four of 24 three-pointers Thursday was defense and aggression on offense.
The Gophers forced the Panthers into 33 turnovers, scoring 35 points off them. They also had a 27-6 edge from the free-throw line.
The boxscore showed a little old, a little new. Senior center/forward Taiye Bello had her second straight double-double, with 18 points and 11 rebounds; she was a stabilizing force in the first half, when the Gophers were hitting more iron than net. Senior guard Jasmine Brunson had 11 points and Gadiva Hubbard had 10, seven coming in that 13-0 run to start the second half.
Freshman guard Jasmine Powell had a second straight strong game, with 16 points, four assists and one turnover, and fellow freshman Sara Scalia had 10 points.
It was defense that kept the Gophers in the game in the first half, and won it for them in the second. "That's the mentality: We don't score, they don't score," Whalen said. "Because there will be nights when you go 4-for-24 from the three-point line."
Or have Pitts finish with three points on 1-for-5 shooting.
Bello had 10 points and five boards in the first half, helping her team stay in the game.
"You have to stick with it," she said. "Those hustle plays, those big rebounds, the little things that keep you in a game."
The Gophers took the lead for good with a 13-0 start to the third quarter, a stretch of 3 minutes, 45 seconds in which the Panthers went 0-for-2 with seven turnovers. Hubbard had five points and an assist in the quarter, while Powell had seven points and a steal.
"The first half was a little slow for me," Powell said. "In the second half, when we got our steals and our stops, and I could get out and really play my game, and get my teammates open? We started getting into a flow. That's really where I got going."
The Gophers led by nine entering the fourth and by as many as 21 with 1:45 left in the game.
"I knew if we stuck with it, turned up our intensity, our pressure, it would break through for us," Whalen said. "That's what I love about this team. They always respond."