Gophers optimistic in second matchup against Nebraska

After starting the Big Ten 2-9, Minnesota is looking for a strong second half finish.

Guard Sara Scalia drives towards the hoop at Williams Arena on Wednesday, Jan. 22. The Gophers were defeated by Wisconsin 72-62.

Emily Urfer

Guard Sara Scalia drives towards the hoop at Williams Arena on Wednesday, Jan. 22. The Gophers were defeated by Wisconsin 72-62.

Brendan O'Brien

Thursday night’s matchup against Nebraska could be a turning point in the season for the Minnesota women’s basketball team.

At least that’s what redshirt junior guard Gadiva Hubbard said to the team after their most recent loss Monday night at Indiana, citing the team’s second half run the Gophers made in the Big Ten last season.

“After our last game, I actually brought it up and I was like ‘Well, this is the time. We’re ripe for the taking.’ So at this point I think we should just turn it on and take what we deserve,” Hubbard said.

At this point last season, the Gophers were 2-7 in the first half of conference play but were able to string together some wins and finished 9-9 in the Big Ten. With the same record as last season, head coach Lindsay Whalen is not ruling out the possibility of making another run in the second half  of conference play.

“Anything is possible. It’s one thing to say it. You got to go do it,” Whalen said. “It’s about how we start things in practice and making sure we are locked into the game plan.”

But Minnesota’s next game will be no easy task. Nebraska caused a lot of fits for the Gophers the first time the two teams met earlier this month, shooting remarkably well from the three-point line and dominating the Gophers inside.

Whalen said she thought three-point shooting did not become one of Nebraska’s strengths until they caught fire against the Gophers. After their 52.6 percent performance from three against Minnesota, the Cornhuskers have not slowed down, shooting 41.6 percent in their last six games.

“For us, that’s a big challenge in this game is to run them off the line, make them take tough twos [and] keep them out of the paint,” Whalen said.

The Gophers also want to keep Nebraska from repeating the success they had inside last time. In the last matchup, the Cornhuskers out-rebounded the Gophers 50-38. Whalen said this will be difficult, given Nebraska’s size and Minnesota’s starting lineup consisting of four guards. Nebraska center Kate Cain is a key factor. She finished with not only 19 points, but added 15 rebounds and six blocks against the Gophers. Whalen said they will look to keep Cain from having the same success again by making her move around on defense. 

Both Whalen and Hubbard said facing a team for the second time in a season is always difficult as teams become familiar with each other’s tendencies. But this time, Minnesota knows they need to take advantage of playing at home if they want to create a run similar to last season’s.

“Home games are very important as Coach Whalen has expressed that to us,” Hubbard said. “We know that home games are what we need at this point and to change everything around, so these next two games are very important.”

After Thursday night, the Gophers will play at home again Sunday against Rutgers. Minnesota has not won a Big Ten game on their home court this season.