MINNEAPOLIS, Minn.. - The University of Northern Iowa women's basketball team held a 13-point lead in the second half, but could not hold on to win the Women's Basketball Invitational championship game, falling 88-74 to Minnesota at Williams Arena on Sunday afternoon.
The Panthers were in search of their fourth-straight road win in the WBI after claiming victories at Stephen F. Austin, Sam Houston State and Seattle University. UNI ended the season at 19-15.
Minnesota connected on 21-of-31 shots (67.7 percent) in the second half, including 5-of-6 from three-point range, to erase a 13-point deficit. UNI shot 25-of-51 (49 percent) for the game and drained 10-of-20 from beyond the arc.
Senior K.K. Armstrong led the Panthers with 24 points in her final game, finishing her career at No. 9 on the UNI all-time scoring list. Senior teammates Katelin Oney and Rachel Madrigal scored 20 and 12 points, respectively. Freshman Brittni Donaldson tallied 11 points - just two shy of her season-high.
Big Ten Freshman of the Year Rachel Banham led Minnesota with 26 points. The Golden Gophers out-rebounded UNI, 33-21.
With the game tied at 4-4 early, Armstrong scored 12 straight points for the Panthers, knocking down two three-pointers, two buckets and two free throws. At the end of her run, UNI led 16-10 with 14:00 to play in the first half.
Minnesota (19-17) cut the margin to two points at 20-18 with 9:17 on the clock, but UNI went on a 14-6 run to open a 10-point lead. UNI pushed its lead to as much as 12 at 40-28 with one minute left in the half, and the Panthers led 41-32 at the break.
UNI's three seniors Armstrong (15), Oney (10) and Madrigal (10) combined to score 35 of the Panthers' 41 first-half points. UNI hit 7-of-12 attempts from beyond the arc in the first 20 minutes.
The Panthers stretched their lead to 13 points with an Oney three-pointer that put them up 49-36 with 17:30 left in the game. Minnesota's shooting turned hot at that point, and the Gophers rallied to tie the score at 55-55 with 11:41 to play.
Minnesota took its first lead since the opening three minutes of the game with a Sari Noga three-pointer to go up 58-55 with 10:33 left in the game, and the Panthers would not be able to regain the lead.
In all, Minnesota constructed a 41-14 run that lasted just under 13 minutes, and the Gophers led 77-63 with 4:46 left in the game.
Armstrong and Madrigal set the UNI career record for games played, as each notched their 128th game in a Panther uniform on Sunday.
UNI finished the season with 19 wins, marking its third straight season with 17 or more wins for only the second time in program history. The Panthers' 63 wins since the start of the 2009-10 season are the most victories in school history over a span of three seasons.