8:00 PM ET, November 10, 2006
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- Strangely enough, the stress fracture in Katie Ohm's left foot was one of the best things that happened to Minnesota women's basketball over the past year.The result was a redshirt for the state's all-time leading prep scorer, and Ohm has four full seasons left with the Gophers."It's an amazing feeling. I've been waiting for it for a year," she said, describing her first basket.Ohm scored 15 points from several different spots on the court, and Emily Fox added 13 points and 10 assists in a 75-63 victory over Northern Iowa on Friday."She's a player. And as time goes on, she will be a great player," said Panthers coach Tony DiCecco, one of the many coaches who missed out when Ohm -- who scored 3,694 points at Elgin-Millville High School -- committed early to Minnesota.DiCecco's neighbor, who is a referee, frequently raved about Ohm and encouraged him to come and see for himself. "Every time he could e-mail me or write me," DiCecco said.A well-documented wave of disgruntled departures from the program last spring, plus the graduation of six others, stuck the Gophers with a dearth of experience and ended their streak of appearances in the Associated Press Top 25 rankings at 83 consecutive polls -- dating to Jan. 21, 2002. Fox and Kelly Roysland are the only ones who played significant minutes last season, and starting forward Leslie Knight is the only other player who was even on the active roster.Minnesota is playing a much softer nonconference schedule than in the recent past because of that, replacing powers like Louisiana State, Stanford and New Mexico with more opponents from midlevel leagues.Jessie Biggs had 22 points and Nicole Clausen added 12 points for the Panthers, who have four starters back from a team that finished 19-11 last season -- but dropped an exhibition game at home last week to Division II Minnesota State, Moorhead, 68-64. They shot 8-for-20 from 3-point range and started a post-halftime rally following a rough first half for their rim (they shot just 7-for-24).Though the Big Ten competition will be much tougher than this, the unrefined Gophers showed balanced scoring -- plus enthusiasm and hustle that has the potential to elevate them past their talent level."I really feel like our team came together," said Fox, who set up Roysland for a layup after Clausen's 3-pointer cut the lead to 40-37 and prompted Minnesota coach Pam Borton to call time-out with 13:14 left.On a busy night at the east end of campus, with the women's volleyball and men's hockey teams also playing within a few yards of Williams Arena, a crowd announced at 5,189 people came out to watch a new-look squad that will be led by Kelly Roysland, the only senior, and Fox, a flashy sophomore.Roysland had 10 points on 5-for-10 shooting, but it was Fox and Ohm who helped Minnesota hold off a surge by the Panthers shortly after halftime and win the opener for the seventh straight year.Fox shot just 5-for-17, but she grabbed five of her team's 53 rebounds, had two steals and served as the energy source of a three-guard lineup that will need to run often and push a fast tempo to succeed with an inexperienced, thin group of post players.Zoe Harper (6-foot-3) and backup Ashley Ellis-Millan (6-foot-2) have the size underneath, but they combined to shoot 6-for-15, showing little lift on their lay-ups and a raw finish around the basket. Knight was only 2-for-10 from the floor.Freshman Korinne Campbell had eight points and 10 rebounds off the bench, though, and the Gophers were able to overwhelm Northern Iowa with their strength in and around the lane -- and their backcourt's speed.Freshman Brittany McCoy, the other starter, had 11 points, six rebounds and four assists."If they can do that against size and against big, aggressive kids, they're going to cause people some problems," DiCecco said. "There's the makings here of a very good basketball team."A three-point play by Ohm with 8:05 remaining made it 53-45, and her 3-pointer shortly thereafter lifted Minnesota to a 58-47 advantage."Every single person on this team made a big shot, and I think this is the way this basketball team has to win this year," Borton said.
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