MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- Buried deep on Minnesota's bench during her first two seasons, Leslie Knight waited and worked for the opportunity to play -- longer than usual for a prize recruit.
"I think tough is a bit of an understatement," the perpetually smiling Knight said.
Patience and perseverance have paid off for the Gophers and their late-blooming, all-around senior forward. Knight scored a career-high 33 points to lift Minnesota past 15th-ranked Ohio State 79-70 on Thursday night and stop the Big Ten leaders' winning streak at six.
"She just willed our team to win this game," said Emily Fox, who added 16 points to help the aggressive Gophers (14-6, 5-3) move into a five-way tie for second place in the crowded conference race.
They're one game behind the three-time defending Big Ten champion Buckeyes (15-4, 6-2), who lost to Minnesota for just the second time in nine meetings.
They roared back to tie the game at 50 with a 16-2 charge midway through the second half following Fox's fast-break, spin-dribble layup stretched the lead to 48-34.
Ashlee Trebilcock scored 25 points, Jantel Lavender added 21 points, and Maria Moeller had eight points and four assists to help offset the absence of starting point guard Shavelle Little to a knee injury.
Nearly every time the Buckeyes made a big shot, though, Knight was there to answer it. Her teammates were just as clutch down the stretch, too. Ashley Ellis-Milan was active inside, scoring 12 points and helping Minnesota own a 36-27 rebounding edge.
All of Ohio State's points came from the starters. Marscilla Packer, coming off a career-high 32-point performance against Wisconsin on Sunday, was held by Brittany McCoy to eight points on 2-for-12 shooting.
Without departed stars Jessica Davenport and Brandie Hoskins, Packer has found it more difficult to find open shots.
"Pack's got to understand that people are targeting her, and she's going to have some of the better defenders on the floor," Buckeyes coach Jim Foster said.
McCoy swished a 3-pointer from the corner after missing her first eight shots -- some of them were badly off the mark -- to make it 61-55 Gophers. Ellis-Milan drew Lavender's fourth personal foul with 5:36 left on a power move inside and completed a three-point play to take the lead to 64-59.
Then, near the 2-minute mark, Knight made a back cut in the lane and grabbed a bounce pass from McCoy for a shot-clock beating layup and a 73-62 Minnesota lead. She played with her usual enthusiasm, often turning and pumping her fist after a crucial score.
"She's a complete player," coach Pam Borton said. "She's very, very difficult to defend."
Knight, who was the Associated Press Player of the Year for Minnesota prep girls basketball in 2004, didn't play much at all until last season. She has come alive as the only senior in the Gophers rotation, shooting over 60 percent from the field and averaging more than 18 points over eight conference games -- second-most in the Big Ten.
"I kept telling myself that someday, my day would come," said Knight, who jokingly attributed her big night to the pumpkin bread she bought and ate at a coffee-shop chain before the game.
NCAA tournament bids could be harder to come by for the conference in March, with several rebuilding programs and currently only one ranked team. This was a big step for Minnesota to get one of those bids.
The Gophers are 34-9 at Williams Arena in Big Ten games over the past five-plus seasons. They're 3-1 here this season, and they host Michigan State on Sunday.
"The Big Ten's up for grabs for anyone who wants it," McCoy said.