Gophers beat Rhode Island, finish non-conference undefeated

Published 12:58 pm Monday, December 24, 2018

Four Gophers scored in double figures and No. 13/16 Minnesota (11-0) finished undefeated in non-conference play with a 91-71 win over Rhode Island (5-6) Saturday afternoon at Williams Arena.

It’s the third time that Minnesota has not lost a game outside of league play in the regular season in program history. The others occurred during the 2003-04 and 2002-03 seasons, which were the senior and junior seasons, respectively, of head coach Lindsay Whalen.

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The team’s 11-game win streak is the fifth longest in program history and the longest since winning a school-record 15 in a row to open the 2003-04 season.

As a team, the Gophers’ 91 points were a season high, bettering the 84 points against both Arkansas-Pine Bluff and Coppin State.

Senior Kenisha Bell led all scorers with a season-high 28 points. She nearly pulled off the sixth triple-double in program history as she posted a season-best nine assists and added seven rebounds. Bell was 9-of-14 from the floor and 10-of-12 at the free throw line, helping the Gophers to a season-high in both makes (31) and attempts (40) at the charity stripe.

Her 28 points give her 1,357 for her Minnesota career, moving her from 15th to 13th place on the school’s all-time scoring list ahead of Ellen Kramer (1,336) and Debbie Hunter (1,345).

Sophomore Destiny Pitts reached double figures for the eighth straight game and ninth time in 11 contests this year with 19 points, her second highest output of the year. She also had four rebounds, as well as two assists and two steals.

Junior Taiye Bello notched her sixth double-double of the season and the 10th of her career with 16 points and 15 rebounds. She also tied a career-high with five steals and added two assists and a block. Minnesota has not lost in her career when she’s had a double-double.

Senior Annalese Lamke had 14 points for the second highest point total of her career. She was an efficient 5-of-6 from the floor and made all four free throw attempts.

Rhode Island had an early 6-5 lead in the first quarter, but Minnesota used an 8-0 run to go ahead 13-6 and eventually led 17-15 after the first quarter.

The turning point of the game came early in the second quarter as Minnesota went on a 17-0 run over 6:14 to turn a 19-17 lead into a 36-17 advantage. Bello had six points during the stretch, while Pitts had five, including four made free throws when a pair of technical fouls were assessed to the Rams. Bell and freshman Mercedes Staples each had three points in the Gophers’ run.

The lead grew to as many as 19 points in the second quarter for Minnesota, but Rhode Island used a late 9-0 run to make it a 42-30 Gophers lead heading into halftime.

Bell and Pitts combined for 17 points in the third quarter and the Rams never got closer than 11 points in the frame. In the fourth, a made free throw from freshman Delaynie Byrne gave the Gophers their biggest lead of the game at 91-65 with just over a minute remaining.

After a brief break for the holidays, Minnesota begins Big Ten play on Friday at 8 p.m. against Wisconsin (9-3) on the Big Ten Network.

Game notes

Minnesota is 3-0 all-time against Rhode Island. The Gophers have won nine straight at home and 15 of their past 16 at Williams Arena. The team’s 21 3-point attempts were a season high. Kenisha Bell is now 392-for-531 at the free throw line in her Minnesota career, passing Carol Ann Shudlick (389-for523) for fifth in Gophers history in both career makes and attempts. With her nine assists, Bell (421) also jumped Emily Fox (413) for sixth in program history. Freshman Mercedes Staples tied a career high with four assists.