Every time it seemed the Maryland women’s basketball team pulled away from Minnesota on Sunday, the Golden Gophers responded.
Minnesota refused to let the game get out of hand, but it never could actually catch the No. 4 Terps, who held on for a 83-72 win in their first Big Ten game of the season.
Coach Brenda Frese said it was an important win for her team after it lost for the first time this season Thursday against No. 1 Connecticut.
“I was definitely concerned coming into this game because of the emotion behind the last game and having a quick turnaround,” Frese said. “We showed some uncharacteristic fatigue.”
Maryland scored the game’s first points and led the rest of the way, but Minnesota proved to be comfortable playing from behind. The Golden Gophers faced an 11-point deficit in the first quarter, but the Terps never led by more than 12.
Minnesota guards Carlie Wagner and Kenisha Bell led their team with 20 and 19 points, respectively, and made key plays to keep their team in it. Wagner hit a 3-pointer to cut into the 11-point first quarter lead and provided a jumper during a 10-2 run that pulled the Golden Gophers to within four points early in the second quarter.
Mistakes prevented Minnesota from ever getting even with the Terps, though. The Golden Gophers committed 21 turnovers.
“We were really able to throw some different looks [on defense] that gave them problems,” Frese said. “With the 14 steals we had, we needed every single one of them.”
Forward Stephanie Jones’ jumper with about a minute left in the first half gave Maryland the 38-32 lead it carried to halftime, but the team had struggled shooting the ball for the first two quarters.
The Terps shot less than 40 percent before intermission. They capitalized on Minnesota’s miscues, though, scoring 12 points off of 12 first-half turnovers.
When the Golden Gophers did go on a run, Maryland turned to its seniors: center Brionna Jones and guard Shatori Walker-Kimbrough.
“It just comes from experience and the games we’ve played,” Jones said. “When one team goes on a run, we have to come back and get a stop and go on our own run.”
After a timeout early in the third quarter, the Golden Gophers went on an 8-0 run that pulled them to within 42-40. Jones got the ball on the next possession but lost control of it.
Guard Kaila Charles ended up with the ball after a short scramble and put up a close-range shot that clanged off the rim. Jones, positioned perfectly under the basket and boxing out her defender, collected the rebound and scored an easy putback.
“That’s what you’re supposed to get from your leadership,” Frese said. “You could just feel their poise and confidence in terms of making big plays.
Jones finished with a game-high 27 points and 13 rebounds to secure her fourth consecutive double-double.
Walker-Kimbrough, meanwhile, put the Golden Gophers away after they made one final push in the fourth quarter. Bell led a charge that got her team within one point, but Walker-Kimbrough responded with five consecutive points to extend the lead to 73-67 with about five minutes to play.
Jones said she and Walker-Kimbrough did feel the responsibility to get their team back on track when its lead was slipping away.
“We’re just a really energetic team, and then once the pace gets sped up then sometimes we get sped up,” Jones said. “Just calming them down and calming us down and getting us back on the same page.”
After Walker-Kimbrough’s scoring spurt, which pushed her to 22 points in the game, the closest the Golden Gophers came to Maryland was five points.
“Going into the new year, we wanted to start off on a good note,” Jones said. “Coming out and playing hard, that’s going to get us through the rest of the season.”