About an hour before Sunday afternoon's game with Maryland at Williams Arena, the Gophers announced they'd be without point guard Jasmine Powell, who was back home in Detroit for her grandmother's funeral.
That meant the Gophers were hosting a 10th-ranked Maryland team without their primary ballhandler, their second-leading scorer and rebounder and best passer.
And, until the final minutes, this was a game.
The Gophers lost to Maryland 87-73. They were without Powell and coach Lindsay Whalen, still recovering from a Tuesday appendectomy.
The Gophers never led. But for three-plus quarters they were able to counter-punch each time Maryland landed a blow.
"I'm proud of the way our team battled," said associate head coach Carly Thibault-DuDonis, who acted as head coach for her second consecutive game. Both Whalen and Powell are expected back for Wednesday's game at Wisconsin.
"They responded to every run [Maryland] made,'' Thibault-DuDonis said. "Stuck to the game plan. There were a couple lapses here and there, but there were steps in the right direction.''
Ultimately, Maryland's balanced scoring and pressure defense took a toll. With the Gophers down 63-56 after three quarters, guard Sara Scalia hit two free throws to start the fourth to pull Minnesota (8-8, 1-3 Big Ten) within five. But then Maryland pulled away against a Gophers team that didn't have one more response.
But until then?
Down 24-14 after one quarter, the Gophers got four consecutive threes by guard Deja Winters and then pulled back within two at 34-32 on Scalia's jumper with 1:33 left. Down 45-36 early in the third, the Gophers scored seven in a row, with Scalia getting the last four — to make it a two-point game. The Gophers got within one at 49-48 on Winters' three with 5:20 left in the third, but they never got closer.
Winters finished with 20, making six of 12 threes. Scalia had 19. She was 1-for-7 on threes, but moved inside and started scoring there, hitting six of nine two-point shots while acting as a primary ball-handler. Forward Kadi Sissoko had 15 points and seven rebounds. Freshman post Alanna Micheaux had eight points and a game-high 12 rebounds.
But the 10th-ranked Terrapins had too much depth of scoring, with all five starters scoring in double figures, led by post player Chloe Bibby, who had a season-high 23. Forward Angel Reese had 19, 15 in the second half, and 10 rebounds. Guard Ashley Owusu had 15 points, eight assists and six rebounds.
"We can hang with anyone when we come to play,'' Winters said. "When we're focused, locked in. Unfortunately we fell short.''
Said Scalia: "I think it gives our team a little confidence knowing we can hang around with a ranked team. Pretty much anyone.''
But Minnesota didn't have another comeback after pulling within 63-58 on two Scalia free throws to start the fourth quarter. The Gophers were outscored 8-2 over the next 94 seconds, as Maryland pushed the lead to 71-60 on Bibby's three with 8:20 remaining. The Gophers didn't challenge again.
The Terrapins (12-4, 4-1) outscored the Gophers 22-4 on points off turnovers, 19-7 on the break. In a 14-point loss, those numbers loomed big.
"We definitely took a step,'' Thibault-DuDonis said. "We're not satisfied with just keeping it a close game. We're not satisfied with that. We're going to stay hungry. But I think the fact we have honed in on what our identity is as a team. And when we are focused, come ready to play, play together, good things happen. There is a lot to be taken from that. But we're not satisfied."