Defense, rebounding key for women’s hoops in Columbus

Dan Miller

Ask Minnesota’s women’s basketball coach Pam Borton what it takes to win in the Big Ten and two things will inevitably come up: defense and rebounding.

The 10th-ranked Gophers (18-3, 7-3 Big Ten) did both well Sunday night in a 74-56 victory over then-No. 5 Penn State, and Borton wants them to keep improving as they tip off against Ohio State (13-8, 5-5) tonight in Columbus, Ohio.

“If we play great defense and rebound, we are going to get exactly what we want offensively, and that’s a big key to what we need to continue to do,” Borton said.

Minnesota’s defense and rebounding struggled during its three-game losing streak last month, but both have taken a turn for the better as of late.

Sunday, Minnesota out-rebounded the Big Ten-leading Lions and held them to 17 points below their season scoring average.

The key to the Gophers’ improved rebounding starts with center Janel McCarville, the Big Ten’s co-player of the week.

“We work on rebounding every day in practice,” McCarville said. “I have really improved.”

The Gophers offense has felt the effects of McCarville’s improved rebounding.

McCarville said she has concentrated on getting the ball up court quickly after a rebound to allow the Gophers more easy transition baskets.

Borton said the quality of the Gophers defense had dropped since the beginning of the season, but is now on the rise.

“We are playing better team defense,” Borton said. “The problem has been that we have always had four players playing great defense.”

The goal for the Gophers is to get all five of their players pulling their weight defensively. That, senior Lindsay Whalen said, takes time and court experience to develop.

Whalen also said the defense is starting to mature, as the Gophers begin their last stretch of regular season games, and will continue to improve.

“I don’t want to say we’ve played our best defensive game until our last game,” she said.

The Gophers step onto the court tonight in Columbus in a situation strangely similar to two seasons ago.

In 2002, the Gophers brought their first national ranking in several years into Value City Arena after a win over then-No. 5 Wisconsin, only to be knocked off by the unranked Buckeyes 70-66.

This year, after beating the Lions, the Gophers, who are looking for their first victory in Columbus in more than two years, are trying not to take anything for granted.

The Buckeyes lead the nation in field percentage (50.7) and won eight of their first nine games this season, ranked as high as 13th nationwide at one point.

“We can’t sit back Ö and think the three games we’ve won in a row are more significant than the three we lost because in the end they equal the same,” Whalen said.