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Gophers women can’t overcome huge halftime deficit in loss to Spartans

On Monday night at Michigan State, the Gophers women's basketball team played a very, very good second half.

The only problem: the first half.

The Gophers dug themselves a 23-point halftime hole and never got all the way out in a 76-65 loss to a Spartans team the Gophers throttled two weeks before.

Minnesota (14-8, 4-7 Big Ten) lost its fourth consecutive game. The Spartans (17-5, 7-4) won their fourth in a row since their 69-50 loss Jan. 20 at Williams Arena.

"I think we're able to compete at a high level, but it takes what it takes," Gophers coach Dawn Plitzuweit said. "We went out and really competed on the defensive end [in the second half], and it carried over to the offensive end."

After shooting 11-for-33 in the first half, the Gophers went 17-for-26 in the second. After scoring 24 first-half points, the Gophers outscored Michigan 41-29 in the second half.

But it wasn't enough for Minnesota, which was playing its second full game without leading scorer Mara Braun, who is out after having surgery on her injured right foot.

Janay Sanders, starting for Braun, scored 23 points on 9-for-12 shooting. Mallory Heyer had a 14-point, 11-rebound double-double. Heyer's traditional three-point play with 2:24 left made it a nine-point game. Sanders hit one of two free throws with 1:07 left to make it 73-65.

But that's as close as Minnesota got.

"I thought, early in the game, we got the ball around the basket but didn't score," Plitzuweit said. "They got the ball going in transition, they were flying around, buzzing. And when they did miss, we didn't do a good enough job on the defensive boards."

On Jan. 20, in their 19-point loss in Minnesota, the Spartans suffered season lows in points (50) and field-goal shooting (32.8%).

They came out firing Monday. They had as many made three-pointers in the first quarter as they did total at Minnesota. Taking advantage of Gophers turnovers and getting their own offensive boards, the Spartans led 20-14 after one quarter and 47-24 at the half.

And then the Gophers started clawing back. They started the third quarter on a 7-0 run. Better shooting meant less transition defense for the Spartans who, after shooting nearly 50% overall and going nine-for-18 on threes in the first 20 minutes, went 12-for-33 and 3-for-16 in the second.

"I thought our young ladies started to finish plays," Plitzuweit said. "You could see that in the beginning of the third quarter. They missed some shots, and we just did a better job of finishing plays. Our intensity was a lot better. We competed at a higher level. We attacked the rim a little more diligently."

But Michigan State never really lost control of the game. Moira Joiner scored 21 points for the Spartans, who had 21 assists on 29 field goals. Julia Ayrault had 16 points. The two were a combined 6-for-12 on threes.

The Spartans had a 34-14 edge on three-point shots, a 19-12 edge on points off turnovers, and a 17-8 advantage on second-chance points.

Sophie Hart had 10 points and nine rebounds for the Gophers. Teammate Amaya Battle had 10 assists to go with six points, but she had half of the team's 18 turnovers.

The Star Tribune did not send the writer of this article to the game. This was written using a broadcast, interviews and other material.