An early bye in the conference season didn't help NU stop its slump, as the Wildcats dropped their third straight game and fourth in the last five on Thursday, 68-60, at home against Minnesota. The loss dings NU's record to 10-5, 0-2 in the Big Ten.
As with its previous losses in this skid, this one came against a beatable opponent. The Golden Gophers came in a pedestrian 9-7, but they outhustled and outclassed the Wildcats, taking the lead for good just 2:15 into the game. NU stayed within striking distance most of the way, but just couldn't get a rally going until the very end. Every time the Wildcats seemed like they might make a run, they'd turn the ball over or miss the front end of a one-and-one or allow Minnesota an easy basket.
But NU did have one final push, just when the game seemed over, with the Wildcats trailing by 11 with 3:12 left. Thanks to a feisty defense, the Wildcats suddenly caught fire and went on an 11-3 run to close the gap to 63-60 with just 37 seconds left. But then the Gophers pulled off a full-court in-bounds lob to a streaking Rachel Banham, who made a layup and the plus one after getting fouled, pretty much sealing NU's fate. It was a tough way to go down.
Kendall Hackney had a team-high 17 points, while Morgan Jones had 16 points and 7 rebounds. Karly Roser came on late to finish with 10 points. Dannielle Diamant, who has been hobbled by an injured ankle for the past few games, showed no ill effects, playing 25 minutes and finishing with 9 points, though she spent much of the game in foul trouble. For Minnesota, Banham, a freshman guard, torched the Wildcats for 26 points, while star forward Kiara Buford had 19 points.
The Wildcats next travel to Bloomington on Sunday to face Big Ten bottom-dweller Indiana (5-11, 0-3). With NU in such a fragile state, I hesitate to declare the Wildcats heavily favored in any game, but I think it's safe to say that a loss here would be pretty deflating. Head coach Joe McKeown, whom I talked to before the game, did point out that NU is 5-1 on the road this year, so that's a stat in NU's favor. I'll have the full interview posted tomorrow.