From start to finish Sunday in Illinois, the Gophers women's basketball team had one constant:
Center Rose Micheaux.
In a 69-62 loss to the Illini — in a game that was tied at 60 with 1 minute and 51 seconds left to play — Micheaux had her ninth double-double of the season: 24 points, 11 rebounds, 11-for-17 shooting, two blocks and an assist.
From start to finish, coach Lindsay Whalen tried to find the right combination to surround Micheaux.
In the fourth quarter it almost worked. With starters Amaya Battle and Mara Braun mostly sitting, with a lineup that mainly included starters Micheaux, Maggie Czinano and Mallory Heyer with reserves Isabelle Gradwell and Katie Borowicz, the Gophers rallied from down 10 early in the fourth to a 60-60 tie on Gradwells' basket with 1:51 left.
But the Gophers were outscored 9-2 the rest of the way by Illinois (18-6 overall, 8-5 Big Ten).
"We gave ourselves a chance to win," Whalen said. "I feel like we competed at a high level for the majority of the game. It was tied with a minute and change to go."
Thanks mainly to Micheaux.
She scored all 10 of her fourth-quarter points in the 15-5 run that tied the game. She finished with as many made field goals as the rest of the team combined. In the second half she shot 7-for-10, the rest of the team 2-for-18.
"It was a mental thing for me," Micheaux said. "I was locked in. I knew what I had to do, I knew the game plan and I executed it."
And that wasn't enough for a balanced Illinois attack that got 21 points from Makira Cook, 20 from Minnesota native Adalia McKenzie and ten from Kendall Bostic. Cook scored eight points in a 9-0 Illinois run that came after the Gophers tied the game.
Whalen eventually settled on a lineup that was going to be tougher on defense and better on the boards. Illinois had 26 rebounds in the first half, 10 on the offensive end for eight second-chance points. In the second half the Gophers (9-14, 2-10) out-rebounded Illinois 17-13.
Braun was the only other Gophers player in double figures, but she scored nine of her 11 points in the first half, playing just 11 minutes in the second half and 3 in the fourth quarter. Battle played 11 of her 15 minutes in the first half.
Ultimately, Whalen stuck with the group that got the Gophers back in the game.
"It was the group that was going to be able to get stops and get rebounds," Whalen said. "And that was the group that made the run."
But after the Gophers tied the score, the offense stalled. Cook hit two free throws with 1:30 left. After a Gophers turnover Cook hit a jumper. Out of a time-out Borowicz missed a three. Heyer got the offensive board, but Micheaux missed. At the other end Brynn Shoup-Hill hit one of two free throws with 28 seconds left and the lead was five.
"It is pretty frustrating to not come out on top," Micheaux said. "But I feel like we learned a lot from it."
The Gophers flew directly to Ohio State after the game, where they will play the 10th-ranked Buckeyes Wednesday.
"There are things to work on, execution, some things we can do," Whalen said. "But, overall, I was happy with the effort."
The Star Tribune did not send the writer of this article to the game. This was written using a broadcast, interviews and other material.