Minneosta in need of big performance in order to earn at-large bid

Early this spring, the Gophers men’s basketball team went into the Big Ten tournament needing some success there in order to make the NCAA tournament. But they really only needed one win, to finish in the top half, to get that at-large bid. The women’s golf team, similarly, needs something to happen in the Big Ten tournament to get that at-large bid. But as the No. 81 team in the country going into this final regular season tournament, a top-half finish won’t be enough. No, after last weekend’s disappointing finish in the Lady Buckeye Invitational, the Gophers need something bigger. A first-place finish would get them in automatically. Second place, and they could make a case. Third, and one could hold out hope. Fourth or lower would likely mean an end of the season this weekend. And that’s tougher than it sounds. First place would mean sneaking by a No. 9 Purdue team that will be playing on its home course this weekend, at the Brick Boilermakers Kamper Course in West Lafayette, Ind. A second place finish would mean getting by No. 17 Michigan State. Live stats are available for the weekend tournament on golfstat.com. Making things more difficult is the fact that it has been an extremely short week for the team. They finished the Lady Buckeye Invitational, in which they finished 13th out of 15 teams, on Sunday and traveled to West Lafayette on Wednesday. Monday was a light practice, so players could catch up on class and homework missed over the weekend, and Tuesday was the only full practice before what is now the biggest tournament of the season. The men’s team, which is practicing this week for its own Big Ten tournament next weekend, aims around the top-70 in the NCAA head-to-head rankings for their at-large berth. However, the women’s team needs probably needs to finish higher than that, because they don’t have a track record of success at the tournament. The men’s team won the 2002 National Championship, but the women’s team has never finished in the top-12 in their four tournament appearances. And even if they don’t make the tournament this year, it may go down as one of the most successful season in the program’s history. They go into the championships with a stroke average of 77.5 per round, the second lowest average in school history, just behind the 2004-2005 team, which also didn’t make the NCAA tournament. Sophomore Teresa Puga is on pace to have the second-best season stroke average, currently at 75.57 strokes per round. She set the team record for best fall average this season, and is just 0.06 average strokes behind arguably the best golfer in the program’s history, Kate Hughes. If the Gophers were to make the NCAA tournament, it would take place May 20-23.