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Minnesota Sports

Collier, Kuier taken 1-2 by Dallas Wings in WNBA draft

By DOUG FEINBERG AP Basketball Writer
NEW YORK (AP) — Charli Collier said she wrote down goals with her late father when he was hospitalized with cancer five years ago, and being selected No. 1 in the WNBA draft was one of them.
She checked off that goal on Thursday night when the Dallas Wings took her with the first pick.
“He’s here with me. He’s with me in the moment,” Collier said of her dad, who died in 2016. “My dad is so proud of me. Wish he could see this in real life. Nothing can take this moment away from me.”
The Wings also had the No. 2 pick and a rare opportunity to transform the franchise. They chose Awak Kuier, who became the the first Finnish player to be drafted in the WNBA.
It’s the first time in league history that a team had picks No. 1 and 2. The Wings acquired the top pick in a February trade after being awarded the second choice in the draft lottery.
“Needless to say, we are thrilled with the results of the draft for our organization,” Wings president and general manager Greg Bibb said. “We took another big step forward tonight with the progress of our team. Obviously with drafting Charli and Awak we got the two best players in the draft.”
The 6-foot-5 Collier helped the Longhorns reach the Elite Eight. The junior center finished the season averaging 19.0 points and 11.3 rebounds per game, while shooting 51.1% from the field.
The 19-year-old Kuier played professionally in Italy, averaging 8.9 points, 6.8 rebounds and 1.5 blocks.
“An elite basketball player, so happy that she will be my teammate. Been following her, watching her game,” Collier said of Kuier. “Six-foot-5, long, versatile. Can’t wait to get to play with her and know her as a basketball player and a teammate.”
The Wings added Chelsea Dungee of Arkansas with the fifth pick.
Between the Dallas picks, Atlanta chose Arizona guard Aari McDonald, who had a stellar NCAA Tournament, and Kysre Gondrezick of West Virginia went fourth to Indiana.
New York chose Michaela Onyenwere of UCLA with the sixth pick. Los Angeles took Jasmine Walker of Alabama seventh, Chicago drafted Australian Shyla Heal eighth and Rennia Davis of Tennessee went to Minnesota ninth.
Stephanie Watts of North Carolina went 10th to Los Angeles. The defending champion Seattle Storm took Aaliyah Wilson of Texas A&M. Wilson didn’t stay in Seattle for long as she was traded to Indiana for Kennedy Burke. WNBA finalist Las Vegas drafted Iliana Rupert from France to close out the first round.
Dallas closed out its four picks in the first 13 by choosing Dana Evans of Louisville, who had been projected to be taken a lot sooner.
“It’s a blessing, excited to finally hear my name,” an emotional Evans said. “It’s motivation, didn’t expect to (fall) this far. I’m ready to take on whatever I got to do.”
For the second straight season, the draft was held virtually because of the coronavirus pandemic. Commissioner Cathy Engelbert announced picks from an ESPN studio in New York and players were at home appearing virtually when they were drafted.
With potentially as few as 144 roster spots in the WNBA and so many players under contract or still on their rookie-scale deals, there are not many spots open for players to make teams. There’s a good chance that less than a dozen draftees will be on opening-day rosters this season.
“It’s really difficult to find a spot in this league and stick,” Los Angeles coach Derek Fisher said. “Coming off 2020, last year with the draft where players that got drafted didn’t get an opportunity to go to training camp and earn a spot … it will be difficult for every player who was drafted tonight to stay with the team.”
The Sparks drafted five players Thursday night.
Training camps open around April 25 and the season starts on May 14.
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Minnesota Sports

Towns scores 24, helps Timberwolves beat Heat 119-111

By BRIAN HALL Associated Press
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Karl-Anthony Towns scored 24 points, including eight in the fourth quarter before fouling out, to lead the Minnesota Timberwolves to a 119-111 win against the Miami Heat on Friday night.
Ricky Rubio added 17 points and Naz Reid scored 16 off the bench as Minnesota had seven players score in double-figures to overcome 21 turnovers. Towns keyed a 22-6 run midway through the fourth as the Timberwolves pulled away.
Towns missed the past two games due to personal reasons on the one-year anniversary of his mother’s death. Minnesota lost both games by at least 25 points to Brooklyn and Milwaukee. Against another Eastern Conference playoff contender, the Timberwolves finished strong to win for just the second time in six games, a stretch against all East teams.
“This win meant a lot to me, just being able to do what I love and be able to be on the court with these guys,” Towns said.
Jimmy Butler had 30 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists, but Miami lost its third straight game, all coming on the road. Trevor Ariza scored a season-high 21 points for the Heat, who started the night seventh in the East and a half-game ahead of Charlotte.
“We don’t deserve to win,” Butler said. “Whenever we take these teams lightly, we don’t do what we’re supposed to do on the defensive end, we just look bad as a whole, as a group, as a unit. It’s not good basketball.”
Miami appeared ready to put away the Wolves, the West’s worst team at the start of the day. The Heat finished the third quarter on a 15-5 and led by five points with Goran Dragic hitting a buzzer-beating 3-pointer.
Towns didn’t let Minnesota fade away. He finished the pivotal fourth-quarter run with a deep 3 and walked back up the court holding out three fingers to the hometown crowd.
“Tough couple games this week for us, but we responded tonight,” Wolves coach Chris Finch said. “Total team effort; what I love about it is it was probably our best team effort of the season.”
TIP-INS
Heat: G Victor Oladipo missed his fourth straight game with right knee soreness. … Butler, the former Timberwolves star who forced his way out with a trade, was booed loudly the first time he touched the ball by the limited fans in attendance. … Butler recorded multiple steals for the ninth straight game, setting a franchise record and extending the longest streak of his career. Sherman Douglas had eight consecutive such games in 1990.
Timberwolves: G Jaylen Nowell missed the game with a right tibia contusion. … Towns extended his streak of games with a 3 to 70 games, the longest stretch by a player in franchise history. … Edwards had a steal for the 25th straight game, the longest active streak in the NBA, and longest by a rookie in team history. The NBA record for a rookie is 31 straight games by Chris Paul in 2005-06.
KEY STAT
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra highlighted an important factor in the win: second-chance points. Minnesota had 10 offensive rebounds leading to 23 second-chance points. Miami only had five second-chance points.
“That’s tough to overcome,” Spoelstra said. “That’s a problem right now, us being able to finish our defense. At least the last three games, that has not been good enough.”
JOINT FUNDRAISER
The Timberwolves and Heat agreed to auction their pregame “With Liberty and Justice FOR ALL” warmup shirts to raise money for The Daunte Wright Memorial Fund. Wright was the Black man fatally shot by a police officer on April 11 in a nearby suburb.
The Brooklyn Nets and Milwaukee Bucks – the previous two teams to play in Minnesota – along with the WNBA’s Minnesota Lynx joined the cause. Each shirt will be autographed by players. The auction ran concurrently on the Timberwolves’ website during Friday’s game.
UP NEXT
Heat: Host the Nets on Sunday.
Timberwolves: Travel to Los Angeles to play the Clippers on Sunday.
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Minnesota Sports

Bonino stays hot with goal, assist as Wild defeat Sharks 3-2

By PATRICK DONNELLY Associated Press
ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Nick Bonino had a goal and an assist, Cam Talbot made 20 saves and the Minnesota Wild held on to defeat the San Jose Sharks 3-2 on Friday night.
Mats Zuccarello and Zach Parise also scored for the Wild, who won their second straight.
Tomas Hertl and Evander Kane scored and Martin Jones stopped 15 of 18 shots for the Sharks, who lost their fourth in a row.
The teams face off again Saturday night in St. Paul.
Talbot stood tall as he started for the 11th time in Minnesota’s last 13 games. The Wild are 8-1-2 over that stretch with the eight-year veteran in the nets.
“There’s been a lot of different factors, but goaltending certainly has been a key factor all season for us,” Wild coach Dean Evason said. “Games that we haven’t been real good, it’s allowed us to get into games, picked up us. It’s been a real positive for us.”
Talbot came up big with eight minutes left and the Wild protecting a 3-1 lead. Kevin Lebanc hopped out of the penalty box and had a breakaway that Talbot snuffed out with a glove save.
That turned out to be a huge moment as Kane scored a short-handed goal two minutes later to make the score 3-2. Kane poked the puck away from Kevin Fiala at the Sharks’ blue line, beat Fiala to the puck at center ice, skated in alone and beat Talbot over his shoulder for his 17th goal.
“We gave up a couple of chances where, yeah, we want to score, we want to be aggressive, but we have to still be on the right side of the opponent and the right side of the puck to not give that up,” Evason said.
The Sharks pulled Jones for an extra man with more than 90 seconds left, but the Wild defense held on for the win.
“Real frustrating,” San Jose coach Bob Boughner said. “I think we were looking for that response game after our last couple games, and we got it. We were playing hard and we did a lot of great things out there.”
San Jose struck first on a strong individual effort by Hertl less than four minutes into the game. Hertl gathered the puck in his own zone, played it off the sideboards to himself at center ice and skated in alone on Talbot, who let a wrist shot slip past him for Hertl’s 13th goal of the season.
The Wild tied it midway through the period on Bonino’s unassisted goal. Bonino pounced on a loose puck in the high slot and fired a quick shot that beat a screened Jones. Bonino has five points in his last two games.
Minnesota took a 2-1 lead early in the second. After Victor Rask won a faceoff in San Jose’s zone, the puck drifted over to Zuccarello, who beat Jones for his ninth goal of the season and third in two games.
Just over a minute later, Parise redirected a feed from Matt Dumba at the goalmouth to give the Wild a 3-1 lead. It was Parise’s third goal in four games and sixth of the year. Bonino picked up an assist on the play.
“He’s played 1,000 games in this league,” Bonino said of Parise. “He knows where to be. He’s always at the net. You know when you shoot it, he’s going to be there for rebounds, he’s going to be there for screens.”
The line of Bonino, Parise and Nico Sturm — technically Minnesota’s fourth line — has four even-strength goals in the last two games. That kind of depth has been key to the Wild’s strong play this year, especially at home, where they improved to 16-4-0 on Friday.
“You can look at every winning team the past however many years, there’s always not only scoring contribution, but just every line brings something, whether it’s shutting a team down, whether it’s energy, whether it’s faceoffs, scoring,” Bonino said. “So I think when you have all four lines rolling — it’s always a bonus when every line scores, but as long as guys are doing what they do best out there. It seems like when our team does that, we’re winning these games.”

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Minnesota Sports

Tatum’s career-high 53 help Celtics top T-Wolves 145-136

By KYLE HIGHTOWER AP Sports Writer
BOSTON (AP) — Jayson Tatum scored a career-high 53 points — including 18 in the fourth quarter and overtime — and the Boston Celtics held on to beat the Minnesota Timberwolves 145-136 on Friday night.
It was the first 50-point game for the All-Star, who eclipsed his previous high of 41. Jaylen Brown had 26 points. Marcus Smart added 24 points, eight assists and six rebounds to help Boston post its fourth win in five games.
Boston erased what was a 17-point deficit in the third quarter and led by as many as eight in the fourth before Minnesota rallied to send it to OT.
The Celtics surged again at the start of the extra period and took a 135-129 lead on a 3-pointer by Walker. Minnesota got within 135-132 via a three-point play by D’Angelo Russell. But Boston outscored the Timberwolves 10-4 the rest of the way.
Karl-Anthony Towns led the Timberwolves with 30 points and 12 rebounds. Russell finished with 26 points and Anthony Edwards added 24.
The Celtics opened the fourth quarter with a 15-3 run and took their first lead of the second half, 101-100, on a pair of free throws by Walker.
A corner 3-pointer by Tatum pushed the Celtics’ lead as high as 118-107.
Minnesota cut it to 122-119 on a 3 by Russell with 1:29 remaining. Then, following a shot clock violation by Boston, Russell drove in for an uncontested layup.
Tatum missed a deep 3, and Russell missed his own attempt from deep on the ensuing possession. It was rebounded by Walker, who got it ahead to Tatum for a dunk that made it 124-121.
Out of a timeout, Towns got trapped, but got it to Russell, who banked in a 27-footer to tie it again with 8.6 seconds showing on the clock.
Tatum had a decent look on Boston’s final possession of regulation, but missed a jumper off the back of the rim.
TIP-INS
Timberwolves: Dropped to 0-4 in OT games. … Held a 26-12 edge in bench scoring in the first half. … Had 11 assists on 15 made field goals in the first quarter. … Jaylen Nowell (bruised right shin) and Malik Beasley (left hamstring) were both out.
Celtics: Improved to 1-2 in overtime games this season. … Evan Fournier (health and safety protocol) missed his third consecutive game.
UP NEXT
Timberwolves: Host Bulls on Sunday.
Celtics: Open three-game road trip at Denver on Sunday.
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Minnesota Sports

O’Reilly has 3 goals and an assist, Blues beat Wild 9-1

By JOE HARRIS Associated Press
ST. LOUIS (AP) — Ryan O’Reilly had three goals and an assist, Jaden Schwartz scored twice and the St. Louis Blues beat the Minnesota Wild 9-1 on Friday night.
Justin Faulk and Sammy Blais each had a goal and two assists, and Zach Sanford and Ivan Barbashev also scored for the Blues, who posted a season high for goals in a game.
Jordan Binnington made 23 saves as St. Louis won its second straight game.
Zach Parise scored and Kaapo Kahkonen made 29 saves for the Wild, who allowed a season high in goals for a game. Minnesota has given up 17 goals in its last three games.
The Blues took control with a season-high four goals in the opening period.
Sanford gave the Blues the lead just 92 seconds into the game. It was just the 14th time this season that St. Louis scored first and it improved to 8-1-5 when taking an early lead.
Schwartz made it 2-0 Blues at 5:59 of the first, ending a 17-game scoring drought.
Parise got the Wild on the board 34 seconds later off a rebound from a shot by Carson Soucy. It was his first goal in 14 games.
Schwartz scored his second of the game with 4:37 left in the first as Brayden Schenn found him unmarked in the slot.
Blais made it 4-1 about 90 seconds later with a one-timer off Faulk’s feed from behind the net.
O’Reilly effectively put it away with two early goals in the second period, including an unassisted short-handed score a few minutes later that made it 6-1.
O’Reilly completed his second career hit trick in the third with a deflection of a shot by Jake Walman. Walman was originally credited with the goal, but it was changed to O’Reilly after the game.
POWERING UP
The Wild had their streak of four straight games with a power-play goal snapped after going 0 for 2 with the man advantage. Minnesota entered the game second in the NHL with the man advantage since March 10, going 27 percent (13 for 48) in that span.
TAKING A SEAT
Blues F Mike Hoffman and D Robert Bortuzzo were healthy scratches for the second consecutive game. Hoffman, who signed a one-year, $4 million contract at the start of the season, has been scratched in three of the team’s last six games fueling speculation that he could be moved before the trade deadline.
UP NEXT
The teams play again twice in the next three days — back at Enterprise Center on Saturday night and at Minnesota on Monday night.
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Minnesota Sports

Fiala’s shootout goal gives Minnesota wild win in Vegas

W.G. RAMIREZ Associated Press
LAS VEGAS (AP) — Kevin Fiala scored in the shootout and the Minnesota Wild beat the Vegas Golden Knights 3-2 on Thursday night.
The victory snapped Minnesota’s five-game road losing streak.
“We’ve been playing so well at home, it hasn’t translated on the road,” said Wild goaltender Cam Talbot, who played his best road game of the season, stopping 35 shots. “Every game is a four-point game this year. Every game is a big game, and when you come into a building like this, you know you’re going to have to go through this team to make it out of our division for the playoffs. This is a tough building to play in and this gives us confidence moving forward.”
Talbot, who is a perfect 7-0-0 at home and improved to 3-5-2 away from St. Paul, is now 6-1-1 with a 1.72 goals-against average and a .948 save percentage in his last eight starts. He leads NHL goalies in saves and shots against, and is tied for second in wins since March 1.
Kirill Kaprizov and Jared Spurgeon scored for Minnesota.
Fiala was the only skater to score in the shootout, as he banked his shot off the post and then off Vegas goaltender Robin Lehner.
“He’s a big goalie so I didn’t know what to do to be honest,” Fiala said. “I decided to go low block and got lucky there. Hit the post and off his pad and in. It was lucky but I’ll take it.”
William Karlsson and Brayden McNabb scored for the Golden Knights. Lehner had 35 saves but dropped to 3-0-1 with just six goals allowed since his return from a concussion.
Vegas couldn’t capitalize early in the overtime during a 4-on-3 power play opportunity, as Talbot turned away three shots on goal. The Wild nearly got a last-second overtime win but Kaprizov’s wrap-around was denied by Lehner.
Playing with just 10 forwards on the second of back-to-back nights, missing injured Ryan Reaves and suspended Chandler Stephenson, Vegas appeared to have a little more jump off the opening puck drop than it did one night earlier in a loss to the Los Angeles Kings.
It marked the first time Vegas lost consecutive home games since early last season, when it lost three in regulation from Jan. 7-11, 2020, under then-coach Gerard Gallant, and a fourth in overtime, on Feb. 8, after Peter DeBoer took over.
“I thought we handled it well, I thought it was a non-issue,” DeBoer said of playing with a shortened roster. “Guys are always looking for a few more minutes every night. It was nice not to have that as an issue. I thought we had a great effort. Just unfortunate we didn’t get the two points.”
The one point Vegas did earn moved it into a first-place tie with Colorado, as both are atop the West with 50 points.
Karlsson opened the scoring when he grabbed a loose puck and fired it over Talbot’s right shoulder, marking the first time in four games the Golden Knights scored the game’s first goal.
It didn’t take long for the top-scoring rookie in the NHL to tie the game, as Kaprizov was able to get position in front of the net in time to redirect Jordan Greenway’s shot past Lehner. It was the Russian forward’s 13th goal of the season.
The second period turned into a highlight reel for both goaltenders.
Talbot stopped rookie Keegan Kolesar, who had a beautiful look at the top shelf but had his wrist shot robbed. Just seconds later, after a faceoff to his right, Talbot blocked Kolesar’s backhand from the doorstep. Shortly after Lehner turned away Joel Eriksson Ek’s wrist shot from the slot, it was Talbot once again, this time stopping speedy Alex Tuch on a breakaway.
McNabb snapped a 66-game scoring drought when he took a pass from William Carrier and lasered a wrist shot from near the top of the right circle through traffic and past Talbot. It was McNabb’s first goal since Nov. 21, 2019, against the San Jose, when DeBoer was still in charge of the Sharks.
Minnesota took advantage of a 4-on-3 situation when Spurgeon blasted a one-timer from the left circle to make it a 2-2 game.
MILESTONE MATS
Minnesota forward Mats Zuccarello played in his 600th career game.
NIC PLAGUE
Golden Knights defenseman Nic Hague had just six penalty minutes over his first 28 games. He’s been plagued in the sin bin the last four games, accumulating 14 penalty minutes, including four against the Wild.
STEPHENSON’S SUSPENSION
Stephenson served the first of a three-game suspension, handed down by the league’s player safety department for elbowing Los Angeles Kings defenseman Tobias Bjornfot on Wednesday. Stephenson will forfeit $71,120.70, all of which will go to the players’ emergency assistance fund.
UP NEXT
The teams conclude their two-game set in Las Vegas on Saturday.
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Minnesota Sports

INF Andrew Romine released from minor league deal by Twins

FORT MYERS, Fla. (AP) — Infielder Andrew Romine has been released from his minor league contract by the Minnesota Twins.
The 35-year-old, the brother of Chicago Cubs catcher Austin Romine, hit .185 (5 for 27) with one RBI during spring training. Had he been added to the major league roster, he would have received a $750,000, one-year contract.
Romine is a 10-year major league veteran who appeared in two games with Texas last year, going 1 for 4. He has a .235 career average with 10 homers and 81 RBIs for the Los Angeles Angels (2010-13), Detroit (2014-17), Seattle (2018) and the Rangers.
Minnesota announced the decision Thursday night.
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Minnesota Sports

Twins coach Mike Bell, brother of Reds manager, dies at 46w

FORT MYERS, Fla. (AP) — Minnesota Twins bench coach Mike Bell, the younger brother of Cincinnati Reds manager David Bell, died Friday of kidney cancer. He was 46.
At the request of Bell’s family to take the field in his honor, the Twins said their exhibition game against Atlanta would be played as scheduled.
Mike Bell had surgery Jan. 28 to remove a growth that was discovered earlier that month. He’d taken a leave from the team to focus on his health. Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said at the start of spring training that his top assistant in the dugout was “very, very optimistic” about his recovery.
“We know Mike as a baseball man, but I can tell you that with the love he has for the game and the love he had for all the people in the game, he was a family man first,” Baldelli said Friday.
“He brought that passion to the field as our bench coach. He was an amazing bench coach because he was amazing with people,” he said.
In a statement issued by the organization, the Twins said Mike Bell had “an indelibly positive impact” on the team and everyone he met during his lone season on the job.
“All who knew Mike, on and off the field, are better for the experience. The Twins join the baseball world in mourning Mike’s untimely passing; our thoughts and best wishes are with his wife, Kelly, his three children, Luke, Mikayla and Madeline, and the entire Bell family during this difficult time.”
Mike Bell was picked by the Arizona Diamondbacks in the 1997 expansion draft. His lone season playing in the majors was 2000 with Cincinnati when the third baseman got into 19 games and went 6 for 27 with two home runs.
Bell spent 13 years with the Arizona Diamondbacks in player development and minor league managing.
“Mike was truly beloved by everyone who knew him — from coaches and players to colleagues and staff in Arizona and throughout our minor league system,” the Diamondbacks said in a statement. “His loss leaves a huge hole in our hearts but his impact cannot be overstated and his legacy will not be forgotten.”
David Bell played 12 seasons in the majors, primarily with Philadelphia and Seattle, and was hired as the Reds’ manager in 2019.
“Our Reds family is overwhelmed with sadness for the Bells as they mourn the loss of Mike,” Cincinnati chief executive officer Bob Castellini said in a statement.
“This great baseball family blessed thousands of people over the 70 years it has devoted to our game. We are honored that Mike, like his grandfather Gus, his father Buddy, and brother David, wore a Reds uniform. Our hearts and support go out to Buddy, David and their families,” he said.
Buddy Bell spent nine years as a manager and 18 seasons as a player in the major leagues. Their grandfather, Gus Bell, played 15 years in the majors. Another brother, Ricky Bell, had a 10-year minor league career.
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Minnesota Sports

Towns scores 29 as TWolves come back to beat Rockets 107-101

By BRIAN HALL Associated Press
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Karl-Anthony Towns had 29 points and 16 rebounds, and Juancho Hernangomez had 19 points off the bench as the Minnesota Timberwolves came back to beat the Houston Rockets 107-101 on Friday night.
Minnesota trailed by as many as 19 in the second half, but closed with a 22-0 run to stop a four-game losing streak a day after standing pat at the trade deadline. Towns had 14 points during the final stretch as the Timberwolves won for the fourth time in 15 games under new coach Chris Finch.
John Wall had 14 points and a season-high 15 assists for Houston. Christian Wood scored 24 and Ben McLemore added a season-high 21 points on a season-best seven 3-pointers for the rebuilding Rockets.
The teams continue a back-to-back set in Minnesota on Saturday.
Houston’s transformation took another turn Wednesday when it traded Victor Oladipo to the Miami Heat for Kelly Olynyk, Avery Bradley and the right to exchange first-round draft picks in 2022. Olynyk and Bradley were held out Friday with the trade still pending.
Short-handed, the Rockets wouldn’t be able to make their big lead hold.
After being held to three points in the second and third quarters, Towns came back to pull Minnesota ahead. He added eight assists.
The Timberwolves led for much of the first half while taking care of the ball. Minnesota’s first turnover came with 5:16 left in the half. Carelessness crept in and Houston took advantage.
The Rockets went on a 22-7 run to close the half, while the Wolves had five turnovers. Meanwhile, McLemore made his first six 3-point attempts in the half.
Wall took over in the third quarter. He had seven points and three assists to open the third, accounting for 100% of the team’s points during the stretch.
TIP-IN
Rockets: Aside from Olynyk and Bradley, Houston was also without Danuel House Jr. for personal reasons and Kevin Porter Jr. due to right quad soreness. Eric Gordon, David Nwaba and Dante Exum are still absent with injuries. … House didn’t make the trip to Minnesota due to deaths in his family, the Houston Chronicle reported.
Timberwolves: Towns pulled 13 ahead of Kevin Love for second in rebounds in team history with 4,465. Kevin Garnett has the franchise mark with 10,718. … Rookie Anthony Edwards struggled, shooting 4 of 17 and scoring 12 points. … Hernangomez had 10 of his points in the third.
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Minnesota Sports

Richards’ hat trick puts Minnesota in NWHL finals

BOSTON (AP) — Audra Richards had a hat trick with an assist, Amanda Leveille made 44 saves and the Minnesota Whitecaps rolled to a 7-0 victory over the Connecticut Whale in the NWHL semifinals on Friday night.
Allie Thunstrom added two goals and Nina Rodgers had three assists for Minnesota, the second seed, which plays for the Isobel Cup championship on Saturday against fourth-seeded Boston.
The Whitecaps, 2019 champions, were scheduled to play top-seeded Boston for the Cup last year before COVID-19 shut down the league two days before the finals.
Richards had the puck behind the net and sent a backhanded pass out front to unmarked Haylea Schmid for the only goal the Whitecaps would need just 6:26 into the game.
Connecticut had a tying goal taken away after video review determined the puck did not completely cross the goal line.
“It was well-rounded by everyone on our team,” Leveille said. “I think the big momentum (swing) was in the first period when Haylea Schmid pulled that puck out of the net, it was an incredible play by her. After that, we just kept taking it to Connecticut.”
Minnesota took a 2-0 lead in the first period on Thunstrom’s breakaway just after the 2019-20 scoring champion was thwarted on a break by Connecticut goalie Abbie Ives.
Richards added a pair of goals in the second period as the Whitecaps settled this one early.
Haley Mack also scored for the Whitecaps.
Richards scored her two goals sandwiched around Mack’s — the first capping a 2-on-1 barely two minutes into the second period and then cleaning up a big rebound.
Thunstrom and Richards both scored in the final five minutes of the game, although the Whale had a 44-29 difference in shots.
Even the abbreviated season, played in a bubble in Lake Placid, New York, was shut down in early February with the six teams playing between three and seven games. The teams hadn’t played since early February. Minnesota and Connecticut did not play before the shutdown.