February 25, 2018 08:06 PM
The Minnesota women’s basketball team earned its best regular season finish in a decade as the Gophers ended conference play with an 84-75 win at Illinois (9-21, 0-16 B1G) Sunday afternoon.
The Gophers enter the Big Ten Tournament with a 22-7 record overall and 11-5 finish in league action. That earns the team the No. 4 seed heading into the tournament, the team’s best ranking since the 2007-08 season.
As the No. 4 seed, the Gophers will open play on Friday at approximately 1:30 p.m. They will face the winner of No. 5 Iowa’s matchup against either No. 13 Wisconsin or No. 12 Northwestern.
Five players reached double figures Sunday, and the Gophers got double-doubles from senior Carlie Wagner and sophomore Taiye Bello to win their fourth straight in the series.
Bello had 10 points and a career-high 16 rebounds, which tied for the most by a Gopher this year along with freshman Destiny Pitts’ 16 boards vs. Boston College on Nov. 19. Of Bello’s 16 rebounds, 12 came on the offensive end. In addition to posting her third double-double of the season and the fourth of her career, Bello had five steals and matched a career high with three blocks.
Wagner posted 21 points and a career-high 11 rebounds. It was her fifth career double-double and second of the season. She made three 3-pointers and added three assists.
The game’s leading scorer was junior Kenisha Bell, who finished with 24 points for her team-leading 18th game this year with at least 20 points. She added seven assists, five rebounds and three steals and was 11-of-16 from the free throw line.
The 11 makes from the line were the most made by a Gopher this year and one off her career high. It also brings her season total to 155 to tie for fourth in Gophers’ history, while her 210 attempts are the most ever by a Minnesota player (209 by Shae Kelley in 2014-15 and Laura Coenen in 1984-85).
Also reaching double figures was Pitts, who had 15 points and five rebounds, and sophomore Gadiva Hubbard, who had 10 points and tied a career high with eight rebounds.
The Gophers owned significant advantages over the Illini with a 53-36 edge in rebounds and 30 made free throws (on 39 attempts) compared to just nine (on 12 shots) for Illinois.
Free throws were the story of the first quarter as the Gophers took advantage nine Illini fouls to score 13 of their 23 points from the charity stripe. The second quarter was highlighted by Wagner who had eight points in the stanza, including a pair of 3-pointers that gave Minnesota its largest lead at 27-14.
Minnesota entered the second half with a 37-30 lead, but the Illini came out of the locker room on a 13-2 run that turned into a 20-6 stretch and an eventual 50-43 lead with 5:00 to play in the third.
Trailing 55-47 with 3:11 to play in the quarter, the Gophers made their move. They closed the quarter on a 6-0 run to find themselves down just two points entering the fourth quarter and then scored the first 11 points of the final frame to score 17 unanswered points and lead 64-55 with 6:10 to play.
The Illini closed to within six points multiple times and within five points with 20 seconds to go, but the Gophers hit 13-of-17 free throw attempts to ice the game away.
Hubbard scored all 10 of her points in the decisive fourth quarter, while Bello dominated to the tune of five points, six rebounds, three steals and two blocks in the same span.
University of Minnesota/Gophersports.com
Created: February 25, 2018 08:06 PM
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