Monday, November 19, 2007

High crime

"They stole that game," a male fan grumbled as he left Williams Arena after he witnessed host Minnesota outscored Louisville 26-9 over the last eight minutes, which erased a 12-point Cardinal lead, for a 74-69 victory.

He was right in some respects: Gopher forward Korienne Campbell's steal with 31 seconds left helped seal the win, Minnesota's fourth of the young season. She finished with 14 points, nine rebounds, four blocks, including one on Louisville star Angel McCoughtry (more on her later), and her late-game steal.

"Korienne played amazing," added guard Emily Fox, who led Minnesota with 23 points -- three of them came at the three-minute mark, which tied the game at 66 apiece. "She (Campbell) is a beast down there (on the low block)."

"I was prepared to do my role," admits Campbell, whose nine rebounds included three offensive caroms -- the sophomore averages four offensive rebounds a game -- eight total.

If U-M are to be successful this season, Campbell must be in the mix. Although her shooting is a lot to desire (she shot 6-of-13 on Sunday), the young woman hustles her behind off.

"She is a presence on the floor, on offense (and) defense," notes Gopher Coach Pam Borton on Campbell.

The almost 6,000 who attended the Minnesota-Louisville game, including Minnesota Lynx players Seimone Augustus and Noelle Quinn, saw a monster performance from the 6-1 McCoughtry, a junior who was Big East preseason player of the year, and also is listed on two national award watch lists. She led all scorers with 39 points and 12 rebounds.

"Everybody can see how quick she is with the basketball," says first-year Louisville Coach Jeff Walz. On several occasions, McCoughtry left Gopher defenders looking like their feet were stuck in quick-drying cement, as she blew past them to the basket.

However, despite her heroics, including hitting a big three to pull her Cardinals to within a basket with 12 seconds left, Walz warns that his players must step up and help their star, who's now a marked woman.

"She will not sneak up on anybody," Walz says of McCoughtry. "The thing that is a challenge for her is that she is a marquee player now."

Louisville, despite out-rebounded (43-32), out-shot (43 percent to 42 percent) and often got to the basket with their speed, couldn't closed the deal. "We get to the basket but we don't finish," bemoaned Walz of his team's missed layups down the stretch.

Despite her game heroics, Fox again found herself in foul trouble for the second straight game. She drew two offensive fouls because the junior guard's inability to pull up on a dime in the lane. Thus far this season, Minnesota has been called for at least 20 offensive fouls -- eight alone in their win at Northern Iowa November 13.

Borton says her team's over-aggressiveness does not concern her much right now. The coach loves an aggressive, physical style, which according to Borton, you can't teach it. I agree, but offensive fouls are turnovers, something that should be a concern (Minnesota committed 17 on Sunday).

The Gophers won their round-robin tournament, defeating Western Carolina on Friday by three points, and Sunday's five-point win over Louisville, who also lost to Western Carolina on Saturday -- the Cardinals dropped to 1-2. The hosts trailed their much quicker opponent in both games but eventually their brawn emerged. Unlike last year, Minnesota is putting their heads down and getting busy, rather than getting down on themselves and ultimately leave the floor in defeat.

"We came together as a team and everybody did what they are supposed to do," says U-M center Ashley Ellis-Milan, who scored 10 of her 15 points in the second half.

"They are a hard working, blue collar kids," Walz says of Minnesota.

They also know how to steal a win from almost certain defeat.

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