Behind a 19-point performance from senior Kiara Buford, the University of Minnesota women's basketball team thumped Wisconsin, 81-49, Thursday night in the opening round of the Big Ten Conference Women's Basketball Tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Ind.
The Gophers advance to the Big Ten Tournament Quarterfinals for the ninth time in program history, with the squad set to take on regular season league-champion and No. 1-seed Penn State Friday afternoon at 5:00 p.m. CT.
Minnesota's 32-point margin of victory was the third largest in Big Ten Tournament history and the biggest in 12 years. (Iowa 87, Indiana 53 in 1997; Michigan 72, Northwestern 39 in 2000).
The win not only improved the Gophers' record to 15-16 on the season, but it was also the first for the squad in the league tournament since 2007, when they defeated Northwestern, 60-43, in the opening round of the event, and its fifth win at the event overall. It also snapped the Maroon and Gold's six-game losing streak against Wisconsin dating back to Jan. 7, 2008.
Four Gophers scored in double figures in the Border Battle win vs. the Badgers, with Buford's 19 points being the game-high. The senior was 8-for-10 from the floor and connected on her first five attempts of the game. She added three rebounds, three assists and two steals in 25 minutes of work. With 1,461 career points, Buford surpassed former teammate Emily Fox for the No. 7 spot on Minnesota's all-time scoring register.
Freshman Rachel Banham and sophomore Kionna Kellogg each scored 11 points, with Banham posting her third double-double of the year with a team-high 10 rebounds to go along with four assists and a steal in 32 minutes on the court.
Sophomore Micaëlla Riché rounded out the quartet of double-digit scorers with 10 points and eight rebounds in just her second-career start. She connected on all three of her attempts from the field and added a perfect 4-for-4 performance from the free throw line.
As a team, Minnesota shot .500 from the floor, making 16 of its 32 tries, .556 (5-9) from three-point range and .857 (12-14) from the foul line. Of its 81 total points, 50 came from inside the paint and 23 were scored off Wisconsin turnovers. The Gopher scored 20 second-chance points, 12 fast break points and outscored the Badgers' bench, 27-12.
After trading leads for a majority of the first half, the Gophers, thanks in large part to the outstanding play of Buford, put together a 14-0 run to take a 28-15 lead on the Badgers with 5:10 to play in the opening stanza.
The squad would continue its hot streak into the waning minutes of the first half to take a 39-23 lead into the locker room at halftime.
Buford was the star of the first half, at one point making five-straight field goals, to pace the squad with 12 points. Loberg and Voigt added seven points apiece, while Banham led the team with four rebounds.
Minnesota picked up right where it left off in the second half, putting together a 10-3 run to open the stanza and take a 23-point advantage, 49-26, with 16:14 to play. Wisconsin only managed to score six points in the first 9:37 of the stanza, connecting on a pair of three-point baskets.
The Maroon and Gold took a 30-point lead at the 10:04 mark in the second half on a three-pointer off the hand of Noga, before back-to-back three-pointers from Buford and Kionna Kellogg gave Minnesota a 67-35 lead at 7:48.
A rebound and putback by Riché at 5:58 put the Maroon and Gold ahead by 36 points, 71-35, before Kellogg extended the advantage to 38 points with 5:03 to play with a layup. The Gophers took its biggest lead of the night, 77-38, following a jumper by Riche at 3:35, before matching its 39-point lead again at 2:51 on a layup by Leah Cotton.
The Badgers managed to drain a trio of three-point baskets with just over two minutes to play in the game, but Minnesota had long sealed the victory with an impressive all-around team effort.