Gophers trying to avoid being swept by Hawkeyes

Minnesota has been swept three times by a Big Ten foe under coach Pam Borton.

by Paul Cordes

The Minnesota women’s basketball team will have another opportunity to get the sour taste out of its mouth that Iowa left from its visit to Williams Arena earlier this year.

The Gophers will head for Iowa City for round two with the Hawkeyes tonight at 7 p.m.

An 18-point lead for Minnesota wasn’t enough during its Big Ten opener against Iowa in the Gophers’ first game back after the holidays, which still stands as Minnesota’s only home conference loss this year.

Coach Pam Borton said she believes she’s taking a more experienced team on the road and is confident about her team’s chances.

“(The first Iowa game) was the first Big Ten game for this young team,” she said. “I don’t think we did too much very well that game and that’s the good thing. I think we’re a better team on both sides of the floor.”

A balance of good guard play and improvement inside has the Gophers sitting comfortably going into their game against the struggling Hawkeyes.

Iowa lost four of its last six games since beating Minnesota and has lost back-to-back games to Michigan State.

Iowa (11-9 overall, 3-4 Big Ten) is also one of two teams which has yet to win a conference game at home.

But Gophers sophomore guard Emily Fox said she still believes that playing a conference game on the road is still no easy feat.

“I think we’ve come a long way since the last time we’ve played them,” she said. “We’re on the road in the Big Ten though, so it’s going to be a big challenge.”

The pressure of playing on the road could potentially be reduced by way of the free-throw line.

Minnesota (12-8, 4-3) is coming off a victory over Penn State where the Gophers were sent to the line 38 times, which is another example of a growing trend.

In Minnesota’s eight losses this year, they have averaged 18.9 trips to the line, while in wins, that number has jumped to 28.1 attempts.

In the first meeting between the two teams, the Gophers took nine free throws – their lowest total of the season.

Borton said her team needs to stay on the attack in order to maintain good free-throw numbers.

“I think we’re a very aggressive team defensively and offensively,” she said. “We’ve got players that attack the basket very well, and we’ve got players that attack well inside and we’ve been giving ourselves more chances at the line.”

This is the first time this season Minnesota is facing a potential conference sweep, something that hasn’t happened very often in Borton’s tenure.

The Gophers haven’t been swept by Iowa since 2000 and have been swept just three times since Borton’s arrival in 2002, with all those coming against nationally ranked teams.

“Every Big Ten game is a dogfight,” senior guard Kelly Roysland said. “We just have to stay focused and go in there to take care of business.”

Minnesota is currently tied for fifth in the conference and a win tonight along with one against Wisconsin on Sunday will have the Gophers in good shape heading into the final month of conference play.

“I think we have to worry about ourselves and not any of the other teams at the top,” Borton said. “This is a challenging week for us, but I think challenges create opportunities for our team.”