West Lafayette, Ind. – Junior point guard Kenisha Bell scored 22 points and had nine assists as the Gophers women’s basketball team edged Purdue 78-74 on Thursday night at Mackey Arena, ending the Boilermakers’ seven-game winning streak at home and tying them for fifth place in the Big Ten.
Destiny Pitts, with a big bounce-back game, added 18 points and seven rebounds for Minnesota (18-6, 7-4 Big Ten) after scoring only 16 points in the past three games, and Gadiva Hubbard had 17 points.
“This is a huge NCAA tournament win for us and a huge RPI win for us,” Gophers coach Marlene Stollings said in a postgame radio interview, referring to her team’s chances of receiving an at-large bid to the national tournament.
Purdue went into the game No. 34 in the national RPI rankings — on the right side of invitation bubble — Minnesota was No. 56 and outside the projected field.
The Boilermakers (16-9, 7-4), who trailed by as many as 16 points in the third quarter, started the fourth with a 10-2 run to close within 68-63. But Hubbard made two free throws to give the Gophers a seven-point lead and later sank a big three-pointer.
The Boilermakers got within three points at 77-74 with 15 seconds left. But one second later, Bell made one of two free throws to make it a two-possession game, and Purdue missed its last shot.
“The last couple of minutes we managed the game really well,” Stollings said.
She was especially pleased with Bell, whom she called “rock solid.” Besides her near double-double in points and assists, Bell also had five rebounds and tied a season-high with five steals and committed just two turnovers.
The Gophers were coming off a tough road loss at Iowa on Sunday. Bell knew her team had to play better at Purdue because of its “loud crowd, and fans get amped up for their team.”
“We played more aggressively, we attacked [the Boilermakers] right at the jump,” Bell said, also on the radio.
Stollings said she told her players before the game they had to outrebound Purdue by 10 or more.
And the Gophers won the battle of the boards 42-31, getting 20 rebounds of their rebounds on offense.
Pitts, an undersized 5-10 freshman forward, got one of the biggest offensive rebounds late in the fourth quarter, with Minnesota ahead 76-72 and 34 seconds to play. From then on, Purdue was forced to foul.
Pitts also earned Stollings’ praise: “For the first time coming in here, a real hostile [arena], she played as sharp as anyone who is a freshman could play in this environment.”
Reserve Taiye Bello also had a strong game for the Gophers with nine points and a team-high 10 rebounds in just 14 minutes.
Purdue shot 52.5 percent from the field, the Gophers only 39.1 percent. But Minnesota had a big advantage at the free throw line, going 16-for-21 to the Boilermakers’ 6-for-9. The Gophers also had fewer turnovers, nine to 12.
Next for the Gophers is a four-game homestand, with games against Penn State, Michigan, Maryland and Indiana before a road game at Illinois ending the regular season. Minnesota is 10-1 at home this season.
Gophers women 78, Purdue 74 3 p.m. Sunday vs. Penn State (BTN)