Just when you think the Minnesota Golden Gophers women’s basketball team has hit a wall and are just trying to get to the end of the season...well they do something like this. Minnesota made it two wins in a row when they upset the #17 Rutgers Scarlet Knights 60-46 at the Barn on Sunday afternoon. It wasn’t pretty, but the Gophers grinded an ugly defensive minded game out and got their second win over a ranked team in the Lindsay Whalen era. Rutgers was 9-1 in the conference coming into Sunday, but now head out 9-2, while the Gophers now improve to 4-7 in the Big Ten.
Both teams got off to a bit of a slow start and couldn’t seem to find any easy baskets. The game would be tied at 10 after the first quarter. Minnesota had issues with turnovers early as Kenisha Bell had four turnovers in the first quarter and would add another quick two early in the second quarter. At one point early in the second quarter the Gophers had more turnovers (12) than points (10).
The second quarter was as near a disaster for Minnesota as possible. We covered the early turnovers, but Minnesota could not buy a basket in the quarter. Minnesota shot an appalling 1-13 in the second quarter. Luckily, they did get to the line eight times in the quarter and made five of their free throws, but that only added up to seven second quarter points for the Gophers, a season low total. Rutgers would have more luck as they started the quarter on a 9-0 run, but Minnesota cut into that total late with several key defensive stops and limited the Scarlet Knights lead to just six at 23-17 at the break.
Minnesota finally came alive in the third quarter and took over the game. Down 31-26 with 3:36 to play in the third, the Gophers embarked on an 11-0 run in just 1:18 on the clock. Bell converted an and-one play, while Jasmmine Brunson followed with a jumper to even the game at 31-31. Taiye Bello and Brunson then followed with three-point plays of their own to cap the run. Minnesota outscored Rutgers 22-10 in the quarter ,and suddenly the Gophers took a six point lead into the final quarter at 39-33.
The fourth quarter has been the Gophers Achilles heel of late. Minnesota has blown multiple leads in the fourth quarter in the Big Ten season, but Sunday would not be one of them. Minnesota continued to score early in the fourth and pushed their lead to ten at 45-35 at point point before Rutgers began to mount a slight comeback. Rutgers got back within five points at 45-40, but the Gophers pulled away with seven points from Destiny Pitts and nine points from Bell in the last five minutes to ice the game and give the Gophers a huge upset victory.
While Bell led all scorers with 19 points, the Gophers MVP on the game was Bello. She ended up with 11 points, but set a new career high with 21 rebounds for her eighth double-double on the season. Of her 21 rebounds, 10 were on the offensive end. Add the fact that she was 7-8 from the free throw line and she definitely was the most important player on the floor for the Gophers. In fact Minnesota as a team was nearly perfect from the free throw stripe shooting 25-31 for the game which was their second highest total of free throws made on the season. They were 16-17 in the second half to clinch the victory.
It was all Minnesota’s starters doing the work. Whalen decided to run with her starters even more than usual on Sunday. She normally plays a fairly short bench, but all five of the Gophers starters played at least 35 minutes Sunday. Brunson did not leave the game at all and Bello saw less than a minute and a half of rest. Only three bench payers saw time, with Analese Lamke getting the most time at nearly five minutes, but recording absolutely zero stats other than two turnovers. Minnesota did not record a bench point in the game—all 60 points were scored by Minnesota’s starters. In fact:
The Gophers starters were in lock down D mode. Rutgers shot just 33.9 percent for the game and just 26.7 percent in the key third quarter. The 46 points scored by Rutgers were 21 points fewer than their conference scoring average entering the game and 19.4 below their season average. It was also the lowest total by a Big Ten opponent versus the Gophers since Rutgers only scored 46 against Minnesota at the Barn in February of 2017. Rutgers struggles in Minnesota for some reason as the Gophers are now 3-0 all-time against the Scarlet Knights in the Barn, but are 0-4 on the road.
Minnesota will now head to Indiana on Wednesday night where they will face a 6-5 Big Ten team that has been up and down this season as well. It’s not a must win for the Gophers, but if they want to have any real chance at a NCAA Tournament at large bid it’s a game they could really use.