The Golden Gophers forced 27 turnovers, 17 off steals, and sliced the Harvard defense apart with crisp ball movement en route to a 57-percent shooting performance from the floor. Minnesota led by as many as 36 in the game.
“You have to put the whole game together to play a team this talented,” Harvard coach Kathy Delaney-Smith said. “You have to do something to disrupt the cart and we didn’t. I don’t think we were aggressive enough on the ball. We didn’t get our game plan implemented until we were down by a lot.”
It was the Crimson’s second jarring setback against a ranked opponent in a week. Harvard (4-2) was trounced at then-No. 9 Vanderbilt, 88-44, last Sunday.
“We played better than we did against Vanderbilt,” said junior Hana Peljto. “We played harder, we finished strong. However, we still need to do work before we can play teams like this.”
Peljto was a bright spot for the Crimson, notching a team-high 23 points, including a three-pointer at the 11:35 mark in the first half that brought Harvard within two points of Minnesota, 18-16.
The basket capped 10 straight points by Peljto, as Harvard rallied back from a slow start that saw the Golden Gophers (7-0) take a 13-4 lead by the 15:51 mark.
Fearing a Crimson rush with its lead cut to two, Minnesota called its first timeout of the game and tried to regroup. Out of the huddle the Gophers responded as Lindsey Lieser knocked down a three of her own.
Minnesota eventually pushed its lead up to seven and the game teetered on the verge of getting out of hand until Harvard junior Bev Moore nailed a trifecta at the 9:15 mark to close the Minnesota advantage to just two, 26-24.
That’s when the Gophers got serious, going on an 18-2 run, abetted by a common Harvard nemesis—turnovers. The Crimson committed six while managing only six points for the last nine minutes of the first half.
“I think there were too many obvious turnovers,” Peljto said. “They’d steal the ball and go in for an open layup and there’s no defense when they’re shooting layups.
“I think we just lost our confidence when they went on their run and we just kind of let them go,” Peljto added.
Minnesota guard Lindsey Whalen notched eight of her 25 points during that run while the Gophers pushed the lead to 44-26 with 3:11 to play in the half.
Whalen consistently beat the Crimson defense by slicing and cutting to the basket. Whalen finished the half with 17 points in just 15 minutes.
“She’s one of the best players in the country,” Delaney-Smith said. “You have to have a team effort to stop a player of that caliber.”
Two free throws by Tania Gilbert with 27 seconds remaining in the half set the score going into the locker rooms at 51-30.
Minnesota came out of the break with the same torrid shooting that had typified the first half. The Gophers shot 60 percent from the floor in the frame.
With Minnesota scoring at will, the lead pushed to 89-53 before the Crimson tried to pull the game back in. The Crimson did outscore Minnesota 18-10 over the last nine minutes.
Sophomore Reka Cserny finished the game with 13 points, nine on threes. Moore added nine off the bench, while junior Tricia Tubridy and Kate Ides added eight apiece.
Also for Harvard, freshman Jessica Holsey had five points, all in the second half, and four assists.
The Crimson will be back in action this Wednesday at Lavietes Pavilion when it hosts Central Connecticut State at 7 p.m.
Harvard plays No. 22 Boston College on Sunday. The Eagles were in attendance at Lavietes for the Crimson’s loss yesterday.
“I know we’re better than this,” Delaney-Smith said. “[The players] know we’re better than this. BC was here en masse watching the game. I would say that they probably have enormous confidence. ... We can handle pressure better, we can play BC. I don’t know that BC is better than Minnesota or Vanderbilt.”
—Staff writer Tyson E. Hubbard can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.