MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- Minnesota is serving notice that its first-ever Big Ten women's basketball championship is within reach.
The Gophers followed up Thursday's impressive win over league-leading Ohio State with a rugged 81-69 victory over Michigan State on Sunday at Williams Arena. By beating the Spartans, the Gophers closed to within a half-game of the Buckeyes, who host Penn State Monday night.
"It's harder winning the Big Ten than it is getting into the NCAA tournament," said Gopher coach Pam Borton, who's led Minnesota to a second- and third-place finish in her first five seasons. "That's what these two games did for us. We've got to win some games on the road now."
That road test comes right away for the Gophers with games at Purdue on Thursday and at Ohio State on Sunday. Minnesota is already 2-2 away from Williams Arena in Big Ten play.
Emily Fox scored Minnesota's first seven points on her way to a game-high 29. But it was the hot hand of Katie Ohm that gave the Gophers an added push. Starting her second straight game, Ohm was five-for-11 from 3-point range and tied her career-high of 17 points to help the Gophers complete a season sweep of Michigan State for the first time since the 1993-94 season. They beat the Spartans 74-63 in East Lansing, Mich., on Dec. 28 in the Big Ten opener.
"I'm used to coming off the bench and scoring right away when I come in," Ohm said. "Starting is a different mentality, and it felt pretty good, I was much more comfortable today."
Two of Ohm's treys came in the opening minutes of the second half as Gophers built their lead to 48-29. Michigan State (12-10, 4-6) fought back into the game through a wide-open attack that included 3-point baskets by Courtney Davidson, Kalisha Keane and Mandy Piechowski, getting as close as 75-69 on a basket by Mia Johnson with 1:38 remaining. Brittany McCoy then made a key steal and Fox converted two free throws and the Gophers were on their way to their third win in four games.
"You've got to give her credit for making a play," Michigan State coach Suzy Merchant said. "It took the wind out of our sails."
Leslie Knight scored 12 and Ashley Ellis-Milan added 11 for Minnesota. Knight has scored in double figures in 11 straight games.
Piechowski scored 14 to lead the Spartans, who got 12 from Lauren Aitch and 11 each from Kalisha Keane and Courtney Davidson. Allyssa DeHaan had 10 points and seven rebounds for Michigan State.
Michigan State was out of synch in the early going, missing 14 of its first 16 shots while turning the ball over five times in the game's first ten minutes. While the Spartans went more than six minutes without a field goal, the Gophers got 11 from Fox to take a 21-6 lead.
The Spartans closed to within 29-24 on free throws by DeHaan and consecutive baskets by Taja Wilson, Aitch and Keane. But they failed to score in the final 4:16 of the first half, while the Gophers went six-for-six from the foul line to build the lead back up to 38-24.