Cats’ season ends in loss to Gophers

Teddy Kider and Teddy Kider

INDIANAPOLIS — With 6:14 remaining in the first half, it seemed possible that the Northwestern women’s basketball team could pull out an upset against No. 18 Minnesota.

The Wildcats’ Michelle Zylstra had just tied the game at 15 with two free throws, and the Golden Gophers’ Janel McCarville left the court in pain after falling hard on a rebound attempt.

But McCarville returned in the second half, and Minnesota’s 27-19 halftime lead only grew.

Supported by four players with at least nine points, the fourth-seeded Gophers (22-7, 10-7 Big Ten) outperformed the 11th-seeded Cats at Conseco Fieldhouse in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament on Thursday night, winning 68-47.

The defeat ended the Cats’ season on a five-game losing streak.

NU’s poor shooting made it easy for Minnesota to win. The Cats (8-21, 1-16) shot just 3 of 19 in the first half and 12 for 42 overall, including 4 of 23 from behind the arc.

“Almost every three-pointer that we missed was an open shot, and they were uncharacteristic misses,” said Zylstra, who shot 3 of 7 for the game. “I don’t really (attribute) it to Minnesota’s defense.”

On 30 missed field goals, NU grabbed just five offensive boards, while the Gophers racked up 20. Minnesota outrebounded NU 51-25.

“Our missed three-pointers were like missed layups because we couldn’t rebound the ball,” NU coach June Olkowski said. “That’s been a thorn in our paw all year.”

Culver, who shot 0 for 8 in 27 minutes of play and scored her only two points of the game on free throws, said NU players tried to make up for poor shooting by upping their defense.

But the Cats’ defense couldn’t control the lane, as Minnesota totaled 42 points in the paint.

The Cats stayed close in the first half thanks to Minnesota’s hacking. The Gophers totaled nine fouls in the first period, and NU converted on 11-of-14 first-half free throws (19-of-27 overall).

But after Zylstra tied the game at 15, the Gophers pulled away in Top-25 fashion.

“They went at our mismatch,” Olkowski said. “Sam (McComb) was defending their three-player, (forward Jamie) Broback, and they pounded it into Broback twice.”

Broback, a 6-foot-3 freshman, finished with nine points and 10 rebounds. Freshman Kelly Roysland also finished with nine points.

But the main offensive production for Minnesota came from McCarville and senior Kadidja Andersson.

McCarville tallied a team-high 15 points and added 11 rebounds, while Andersson contributed 14 points and 11 boards.

NU also had two players in double digits, with McComb scoring a game-high 16 and Zylstra adding 14.

But the Cats didn’t get production from key players who have helped NU to its limited success this season. Freshman Alex Mueller, sophomore Ifeoma Okonkwo and junior Sarah Kwasinski scored just 11 combined points in a total of 65 minutes.

“We had great effort, but the shots just weren’t going in,” Olkowski said. “It had nothing to do with preparation or execution.”