The inaugural Battle 4 Atlantis women’s basketball tournament was a long time in the making, even before COVID-19 wiped it out last season.
“It’s been like three years in the making,” University of Minnesota coach Lindsay Whalen said. “We’ve been committed for three years.”
For sheer star power, the wait was worth it, and if the Gophers didn’t didn’t come close to winning — they finished 1-2 — they’ll take some lessons into the rest of a season that continues Friday against Bradley at Williams Arena.
“Every night, we’re going to take lessons that we learned from this tournament,” Whalen said, “and be able to lean on those lessons, I believe, and move forward as a team and look back on this as a really great opportunity.”
Monday’s championship game featured No. 1 South Carolina pulling away from No. 2 Connecticut, and the field featured No. 9 Oregon, No. 23 South Florida and an Oklahoma team that appears headed for the top 25. The Sooners overwhelmed Minnesota in Monday’s fifth-place game, 88-67, to improve to 5-1.
Taylor Robertson scored a game-high 19 points and Madi Williams added 12 points and a game-high 11 rebounds for the Sooners, who outrebounded the Gophers 51-31. Minnesota (4-3) finished the tournament with a 1-2 record and won’t play many better teams than Oklahoma and Connecticut, which ran away from the Gophers in the opening game, 88-58.
“We talked about playing three games in three days and wanting to be the team that punched first, and obviously Oklahoma beat us to it,” Whalen said.
The Sooners opened a 7-0 lead and led 27-14 after the first quarter. Minnesota took a brief lead, 8-7, in the first quarter and pulled within five points on a Jasmine Powell 3-point basket in the second, but the Sooners had too much firepower for the Gophers.
Ana Llanusa added 17 points and five rebounds, and Kelbie Washington had eight assists in just 17 minutes.
“Our team is tough, and we’re resilient. We battled back,” Whalen said. “The lead was just too big to be able to come back from. Give them credit.”
The Gophers fell behind UConn, 12-0, in their first-round game on Saturday before pulling within 31-30 in the second period. On Monday, Powell pulled Minnesota within 52-47 with 3:43 left in the first half.
“The one thing I take away from this is we have it. We have what it takes,” said Powell, who finished with 18 points, four assists and six rebounds. “We have the talent, we have the mindset. We just have to execute the plan.”
Backcourt mate Deja Winters also scored 18 for the Gophers, and Kadi Sissoko had a team-high seven rebounds before fouling out in the fourth quarter. Godiva Hubbard added 11 points.
Turnovers were an issue during the tournament, 56 combined in three games. Minnesota had 20 on Monday — the Sooners turned 11 turnovers into 15 points in the first half — and 20 in Sunday’s 70-63 victory over Syracuse.
“Yeah, 20 turnovers. We’ve got to get home and figure some of that out and be able to execute and take care of the ball,” Whalen said. “We have players that can shoot and shoot and score, so the more attempts the better. We’ve got to get back to our execution and take care of the ball.”
Bradley was 3-0 with a victory over Wisconsin heading into Monday night’s game at Northern Illinois.
“We just have to continue to get better and learn from this tournament, which is a tough tournament,” Winters said. “We can hang with anybody, we can have a lot of good games, we can win a lot of games. We’ve just got to continue to come together every day and get better one game at a time.”