Lindsay Whalen and her Minnesota Golden Gophers women’s basketball team got their toughest test of the season Thursday night at the Barn against the Syracuse Orange. Well, they passed. The #20 Gophers came back from six points down with 3:31 to play to record an upset 72-68 win over the #12 Orange in the Women’s Big Ten/ACC Challenge. The Gophers now move to 6-0 on the season.
With the Barn draped in gold for the Gophers Gold Out game, Minnesota started off with a bang. The Gophers ran away from the orange early taking a 21-9 lead at one point. They would finish the first quarter with a 23-14 lead and were seemingly in control of the game. The Orange would come back in the second quarter cutting the Gopher lead to 36-31 at the break. The Orange would shoot 50% from the field in the second quarter while the Gophers struggled on just over 29%.
The third quarter saw the Gophers jump out and widen their lead early, but the Orange came roaring back as Minnesota began to struggle with the full court pressure defense. Syracuse cut it to a four point game at 50-46.
The Gophers continued to struggle early in the fourth quarter. Minnesota turned the ball over in their back court several times in a row as the Orange went on a 13-0 run to cut a five point Gopher lead to a six point deficit with 3:36 to play. Lindsay Whalen could call a time out that would then change the shape of the game for good.
Whatever Whalen said in that timeout...well it really worked. Destiny Pitts immediate hit a three pointer and after an Annalese Lamke block on the other end, Kenisha Bell put in a layup to cut the Orange lead to one. Lamke got a steal on the next play and Bell struck again to give the Gophers the lead back at 62-61—one they would not relinquish. After a pair of free throws, Bell drove into the lane and hit a spinning runner off the glass and got fouled. She hit her free throw to put the Gophers up 67-61 and complete a 12-0 run after the Whalen timeout in 2:22.
The teams would trade points down the stretch, but nothing would change and the Gophers would hang on to give Whalen the biggest win of her young coaching career 72-68.
Kenisha Bell had 24 points for the Gophers to lead all scorers. She scored 11 of her 24 in the fourth quarter. Taiye Bello continued to show insane improvement from a season ago as she recorded her fourth double-double of the season in just six games. She scored 20 points and added 18 rebounds—tying her career high she set just two games ago.
Whalen went with a very short bench for this game. Bell, Bello and Pitts all played all 40 minutes. Jasmine Brunson played 38 minutes and Lamke played 28. Only two Gophers saw time off the bench with Palma Kaposi getting 12 minutes in giving Lamke a breather and Irene Garrido playing just two minutes. It worked as the Gophers out-rebounded the Orange 50-33 and had just 13 turnovers for the game.
Minnesota now moves to 6-0 on the season and will next play Sunday afternoon when they host Air Force at the Barn. A win there to go 7-0 and the Gophers may near the AP Top Ten for the first time in a VERY long time.