NU drops regular-season finale to Gophers despite halftime lead (Women’s Basketball)

Abe Rakov and Abe Rakov

Northwestern shot more than 60 percent from the field and outrebounded No. 15 Minnesota by eight in the first 20 minutes Sunday, and the Wildcats held a 41-36 lead at halftime.

But in the second period the Cats (5-24, 2-14 Big Ten) cut their shooting percentage in half to under 31 percent and lost 70-62 to Minnesota (22-6, 12-4).

“Obviously they have some amazing players,” senior Melissa Culver said. “I think we competed well with them and countered a lot of stuff they brought to us. But they just played better down the line.”

A 3-pointer by freshman Sara Stutz with 5:52 left in the first half gave the Cats a 25-22 lead, which they did not relinquish until six minutes into the second half.

NU had a seven-point lead with 18:05 left in the game, but Minnesota went on a 9-0 run to get a 47-45 advantage.

“I think we played pretty well defensively,” Stutz said. “But we had a few lapses here and there.”

Although there were four lead changes in the next eight minutes, Minnesota took the lead for good on a layup by senior Janel McCarville with more than five minutes left in the contest.

McCarville, a candidate for National Player of the Year, committed two fouls in the first half and was limited to six points and four rebounds in 14 minutes. But in the second half McCarville scored 12 points and grabbed eight rebounds to get her conference-leading 12th double-double this season.

“That’s why she’s an All-American,” Combs said. “She’s a heck of a player and she wasn’t going to be stopped. But I think we did a fairly decent job with her.”

In the first half, NU shot 61 percent compared to 48 percent for Minnesota. The Cats outrebounded the Gophers 17-9 in the half, including five rebounds by Stutz.

In the second half, NU shot 31 percent from the field and was outrebounded 22-14. Both teams grabbed 31 rebounds in the game.

In NU’s 62-44 loss to Minnesota at the beginning of the Big Ten season, the Gophers outrebounded the Cats 46-32.

“Rebounding has been a focus of ours all year,” Stutz said. “We’ve been working on it hard in practice and that’s our goal, outrebounding teams.”

Stutz scored a career-high 22 points and collected a team-high seven rebounds.

She has scored in double figures 11 times this season.

“Sara came out on fire,” Combs said. “She’s been a shooter for us all year and she came out with a lot of confidence today.”

Senior Melissa Culver got her first start of the season and played a season-high 30 minutes, scoring all seven of her points in the first half.

“I knew I was going to get some playing time,” Culver said. “But, I didn’t really know I would get this much.”

This was the first game this season Combs started all four seniors. Junior Ifeoma Okonkwo was affected most by the extra minutes given to the seniors, as she only played 23 minutes in the game. Okonkwo scored 12 points and grabbed five rebounds.

“I think that’s what you do” Combs said, explaining why she started all four seniors.

Reach Abe Rakov at [email protected].