Women’s basketball: Rutgers’ press flattens Minnesota

Minnesota knew Rutgers would press from the start of Wednesday’s women’s basketball game in Piscataway, N.J., and the Gophers handled it well in the first half.

Eventually, though, the press took its toll.

Facing full-court pressure in the third quarter, the Gophers turned the ball over 11 times as Rutgers broke open what had been a close game and cruised the rest of the way to an 83-56 victory at Rutgers Athletic Center.

“I would definitely say they went into the locker room and had a talk,” Gophers center Klarke Sconiers said. “Because the intensity that they brought out was a lot.”

Diamond Johnson scored a game-high 26 points, and Arella Guirantes added 22 as Scarlet Knights (9-3 overall, 5-3 Big Ten) won their fourth consecutive game since a five-week COVID-19 shutdown.

Sconiers scored a team-high 13 points on 6-for-8 shooting, but 11 of those points came in the first half, when Minnesota made relatively easy work of a three-quarter press. The Gophers pulled within 27-26 on Jasmine Powell’s three-point play with 5 minutes, 24 seconds left, and trailed 38-28 at intermission.

In the third quarter, Rutgers coach C. Vivian Stringer unloaded her (in)famous 55 full-court press (there’s a video about it) and never stopped. The Knights did the same thing in a 75-57 with at Purdue last Sunday.

“Obviously, we didn’t handle it well,” Minnesota coach Lindsay Whalen said. “That’s what they’re doing to teams. We handled their pressure in the first half, but when they turned it on, we didn’t respond like we needed to.”

The Gophers (7-10, 6-9) were charged with 22 turnovers, and the Knights turned them into a whopping 35 points. After a timeout with 4:52 left in the third quarter, Rutgers forced six turnovers directly under Minnesota’s basket — two of them 5-seconds violations — and outscored the Gophers 13-2 to go up 60-39.

The Scarlet Knights led by as many as 30 in the fourth quarter.

Sconiers, so good down low in the first half, took only two shots in the second half. Forward Kadi Sissoko, who scored 20 points on 7-of-9 shooting in a victory over Illinois last Sunday, managed only one field goal and six total points.

“When you struggle to get it in, and you struggle to get it across halfcourt, there are going to be fewer opportunities,” Whalen said. “It would be interesting see how many possessions we ended up having turnovers or just didn’t get the ball to our frontcourt.”

The Gophers used three 3-pointers from Sara Scalia (1) and Gadiva Hubbard (2) to stay close in the first half but never made another one, finishing 3 for 13 from beyond the arc. Rutgers shot 54.4 percent from the field and was 9 for 16 from 3-point range.

Hubbard returned from a long absence and scored eight points in 16 minutes. She had missed five games since spraining an ankle in an 85-76 victory at Penn State. She was 2 for 2 on 3-pointers in the first half, helping the Gophers stretch the floor and create opportunities inside.

“Her shooting well, and Sara, I think definitely in the future we’re going to look more to playing in and out, out and in,” Sconiers said. “Because I think that’s something that definitely helps the offense a lot.”

Scalia came into the game shooting 40.2 percent from beyond the arc in her past seven games but was 1 for 7 on Wednesday and finished with 12 points and three assists.

It doesn’t get any easier for Minnesota, which plays at first-place Maryland (13-3, 11-1) on Saturday. Tipoff is set for 11 a.m.

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