U women look for win streak

by Murali Balaji

What a difference a year makes — especially for the Minnesota women’s basketball team.
Last season, in the beginning stages of coach Cheryl Littlejohn’s rebuilding effort, the Gophers dwelled at the bottom of the Big Ten. Their one conference win was considered a surprising feat, given the team’s lack of depth and chemistry at the time.
Times have changed, but the Gophers (6-9, 1-4 in the Big Ten) aren’t satisfied with improved effort; they want results. As senior forward Sonja Robinson points out, the team is ready to climb out of the bottom.
“Last year, we felt we proved everyone wrong with only one victory in the conference,” Robinson said. “Now, we’re definitely not satisfied with just one win.
“We weren’t as strong last year because we didn’t know how good we really were. We have a lot more potential and much more depth.”
This weekend could be critical in determining how much the Gophers really have improved in Big Ten competition. The team will visit Northwestern tonight and will play host to Indiana on Sunday. Both games, Littlejohn and her players say, are winnable.
“(Indiana and Northwestern) are all beatable teams,” forward Theresa LeCuyer said. “Our goal is to be 4-4 in the next three games. We’ve got the confidence to win and we’ve turned it up in practice.”
Northwestern (7-7, 1-3) has lost three straight games and is coming off a 76-46 thrashing at the hands of Purdue. But Littlejohn insists that no team will be overlooked.
“The most important thing is to stay focused,” Littlejohn said. “We’ve got to have motivation to win.”
The Wildcats lost star forward Kristina Divjak for the season after she suffered a compression fracture of her right knee in the fourth game of the season. At the time, Divjak was leading the team in scoring with 16.5 points per game.
However, senior guard Megan Chawansky — one of the top backcourt players in the conference — has picked up the team’s offensive slack, averaging 16.9 points per game. Forward/center Tami Sears, at 6-foot-2, has established herself as a post presence in Divjak’s absence, averaging 10.4 points and a team-high 8.7 rebounds per game.
And despite its modest record, Northwestern boasts four players scoring in double figures.
But the Gophers aren’t in awe of the Wildcats’ offensive firepower. Coming off a surprising 54-47 victory at Michigan, they will look to build momentum as they head into the core of their Big Ten schedule.
Littlejohn will continue to use different combinations in her lineup. Other than Robinson, who is the team’s undisputed on-court leader, no one has a comfortable position in the starting lineup.
One player who the Gophers will rely upon to emerge as a post presence is 6-foot-7 freshman center Kim Bell, who made her first start on Sunday in the victory against Michigan.
“Kim has made significant progress in the last three weeks,” Littlejohn said. “She really set the tempo of the Michigan game.”