EUGENE, Ore. (AP) — Defensive intensity triggered the kind of offensive avalanche that Minnesota coach Marlene Stollings has come to expect.
All it took was for Kenisha Bell to get the Golden Gophers rolling downhill.
Bell scored 24 of her 26 points in the second half to lead No. 10 seed Minnesota to an 89-77 victory over No. 7 Green Bay in the first round of the women’s NCAA Tournament on Friday.
After trailing by 10 points at the break, the Golden Gophers shot 16 of 28 (57 percent) in the second half and finished on an 18-5 run to pull away handily.
“I was frustrated (at halftime) that we weren’t following the game plan as expected,” Bell said, “but we picked it up second half. We just had to calm each other down and fix it as a team.”
Destiny Pitts, the Big Ten freshman of the year, added 20 points for the Golden Gophers (24-8), who will play Oregon in the second round of the Spokane Regional on Sunday.
Minnesota outscored the Phoenix (29-4) 30-13 in the fourth quarter, with half the points coming at the foul line. The Golden Gophers made 22 of 23 free throws in the second half and 25 of 29 overall.
“A lot of our offense in the second half was generated off our defense and the fourth quarter was obviously tremendous,” Stollings said. “Those fundamental things that you work so hard on way back in June come into play in this moment in this tournament.
“We were just exceptional at the line.”
Gadiva Hubbard had 16 points and Carlie Wagner 15 for Minnesota, which shot 27 of 59 (46 percent) for the game and 10 of 18 from 3-point range. The 89 points were nearly twice what Green Bay gave up as the nation’s scoring defense leader at 46.1 points per game.
The Phoenix had an edge in nearly every statistical category, but they also committed five of their 12 turnovers in the fourth quarter and shot just 4 of 14.
“What I was most focused on after halftime was that our activity level defensively picked up,” Stollings said. “We were a little too stagnant, and we have almost a whole team that’s not been on this stage before — no excuse — but it took us a little while to get in a flow, wake up and get moving.
“Once we did, we never really looked back.”
Allie LeClaire and Jessica Lindstrom, the Phoenix’s only seniors, had 17 and 11 points, respectively. It was the fourth year in a row that Green Bay was ousted in the first round.
“They really thought that this was their year,” Green Bay coach Kevin Borseth said. “This was the year they were going to break the door down and get to the other side.
“It’s difficult to get in this tournament to start with, and then when you get in here and you draw a Power Five school, it’s hard. Those teams are good. So I told them I was very proud of their effort. Jessica and Alison were great leaders and I was very lucky to be their coach.”
Minnesota: With only two players, seniors Carlie Wagner and Bryanna Fernstrom, having NCAA Tournament experience, the Golden Gophers improved to 7-3 all-time in first-round games. Minnesota is the third-highest scoring team in the nation at 85.2 points per game, behind only UConn and Baylor.
Green Bay: The 22nd-ranked Phoenix were in the tournament for the ninth time in 10 years but fell to 6-18 in 18 appearances. They are now 2-12 under coach Kevin Borseth.
STAT OF THE GAME
Minnesota scored 57 points in the second half against a team that had allowed more than 70 points in a game just once this season.
SHE SAID IT
Stollings is keenly aware that sixth-ranked Oregon also was a 10th seed last year that beat No. 7 Temple and No. 2 Duke on its own floor to eventually reach the Elite Eight, where the Ducks were stopped by UConn. “We’re going to take a page out of their book, we hope,” she said. “It’s definitely something that you can say, ‘Hey, this has been done. They did it just last year and why not us, so why not the Gophers?'”
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