3:00 PM ET, December 31, 2006
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- Minnesota not only needed a win, it needed a complete effort from its young women's basketball team.The Gophers got it big time, showing newfound grit and maturity in rallying from a 10-point second-half deficit to knock off Illinois 70-61 Sunday at Williams Arena.Less than a week after losing steam and a 15-point halftime lead in a bitter 58-56 setback to Iowa, the Gophers appeared ready for another collapse when the Illini seemed to take control with an 11-0 run early in the second half.After a time out, Leslie Knight ignited a 14-2 Minnesota rally with five straight points, and after a tying basket by Lacey Simpson, Kelly Roysland nailed a three-pointer and the Gophers never trailed again."We were talking the whole time in the huddle," said Knight. "The past couple games we've kind of gone in the tank a little bit, and not believed wholeheartedly in ourselves. We just believed and we went out there, we got that little boost and got back in it."Roysland finished the Illini off almost single-handedly. She scored 12 of Minnesota's final 15 points on her way to a career-best 27."No one said anything to me," said Roysland, the lone senior on the Gopher roster. "I think it was my teammates and everyone saying 'believe in it, if you have an open look, take it."The Gophers set the foundation for the win with a full-court press and tough man-to-man defense that belied their sagging effort in last week's 58-56 loss to Iowa in which they squandered a 15-point halftime lead."It looked like we had never seen a pass before," said Illinois coach Theresa Grentz. "No one worked to break it. If I was Minnesota I'd probably do the same thing."Illinois (11-3, 1-1), which opened the Big Ten season with an impressive 74-65 overtime win over Penn State, saw its five-game winning streak stopped.Minnesota had plenty of fire throughout the game against the Illini. Roysland's three-pointer with 14:58 put the Gophers ahead 41-40.Then Simpson made a three-point basket to spark an 11-0 run that gave the Illini their biggest lead of the game at 51-41.The Gophers didn't quit, though. After Knight's five straight points, Emily Fox drilled a three-pointer, with Ashley Ellis-Milan making two free throws for a 55-53 Minnesota lead.Simpson tied the score with a jumper from the baseline, but Roysland put the Gophers ahead for good with a deep three-pointer that she accentuated with a pump of her right fist.Chelsea Gordon led Illinois with 17 points, while Lori Bjork added 13 and Simpson scored 11.Ellis-Milan had 13 points and a team-high nine rebounds.Minnesota's suffocating man-to-man defense wrecked the Illinois offense from the outset. The Illini missed 12 of their first 15 shots, and the Gophers got a couple of three-pointers by Roysland to take a 16-9 lead.Illinois then made nine of its next 10 free throws, and a three-point basket by Gordon put them ahead for the first time at 23-21.
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