Gophers end season in WNIT second round battle

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Despite rolling into the second round of the Women’s National Invitation Tournament after a victory over Northern Iowa, Minnesota’s season came to an end Sunday.

The Gophers’ women’s basketball team lost to Cincinnati 72-65 on Sunday in Cincinnati during the second round of the WNIT.

Minnesota and Cincinnati were nearly even partway through the first quarter with Minnesota ahead 14-12 at the 3:56 mark.

Less-experienced players continued to step up their play for the Gophers. Mercedes Staples started for the second time in her career, in place of an injured Jasmine Brunson. Irene Garrido Perez started as well, and she scored six points in the game’s first seven minutes.

Minnesota head coach Lindsay Whalen desperately needed the contributions of these two players, as her team has had a short bench for much of the season.

After six points from Garrido Perez and six points from Kenisha Bell, it looked as if the Gophers would end the first quarter ahead. Then the Bearcats made a 3-pointer to tie the game at 17 points apiece at the break.

At the start of the second quarter, Garrido Perez hit her third 3-pointer of the game. The teams continued to go back and forth, and by the 6:14 mark Cincinnati took the lead for the first time.

Bell and the Gophers then went on an 8-2 run to take a five-point lead. Time was waning in the second quarter, but Minnesota was focused. The team was able to stretch its lead to 36-29 at the half.

The third quarter opened up much the same, with both teams vying for momentum.

An and-one play from Bell gave the Gophers a 42-34 lead three minutes in. Minnesota got to the free throw line for seven attempts in the third quarter’s first seven minutes. However, gutsy play from the Bearcats kept the game close.

The score was 53-48 in favor of the Gophers to start the fourth quarter, but Cincinnati ultimately outscored Minnesota 24-12 in the frame to steal the game.

The Gophers were scoreless through the first four minutes of the quarter, and Cincinnati took advantage of it, erasing a five-point deficit to pull ahead by one. The Bearcats stayed in the driver’s seat for a couple of minutes, but Taiye Bello was able to convert a three-point play to tie the game with four minutes remaining.

Unfortunately for the Gophers, that was the end of Minnesota’s success. Lapses on defense allowed the Bearcats to get ahead again, and the remainder of the game was mostly spent at the free throw line.

It was Bell’s final game for the Gophers, and she scored 25 points. The game also marked the end of Garrido Perez’s collegiate career, and she had a career night with 11 points. Destiny Pitts was the only other player to score in the double digit figures, with 10 points on a 3-of-16 shooting night.

Minnesota ends the year with a 21-10 record in Lindsay Whalen’s first season at the helm.

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