Minnesota has first road test tonight in Cedar Falls

Mark Heise

If Northern Iowa’s convincing 72-58 win over Colorado State is any indication of how the Panthers’ season will go, the low-scoring Minnesota women’s basketball team might be in trouble tonight.

But it shouldn’t be an indicator, as Colorado State is more of another Australian national team than an Ohio State powerhouse.

So when Minnesota (1-0 overall, 0-0 Big Ten) tips off at 7 p.m. tonight against Northern Iowa (1-0, 0-0 Missouri Valley) to begin the team’s first away game of the season, the Gophers should be favored.

But coach Pam Borton said the team wasn’t taking anything for granted.

“We’re not taking anybody lightly,” she said. “We’re not in a position to do that yet. This is just our first road game, so we’ll find out what we’re all about here.”

Rebounding was a big part of Minnesota’s success against UC-Riverside last weekend, and it should be a factor again, as the Panthers have just one player taller than 6 feet 1 inch, and barely out-rebounded Colorado State in their last matchup.

“This will be a good test for us,” sophomore forward Ashley Ellis-Milan said. “Rebounding and defense are the two key factors for us, and I’m pretty confident that we’ll be able to overcome whatever Northern Iowa throws at us.”

Minnesota might be a defensive-minded team, but it will have to find ways to put up more points, as the Gophers only scored 57 in their season opener.

“We’re getting good shots, our players are doing a good job of crashing the boards and getting second chances. Now we just need to finish,” sophomore guard Brittany McCoy said. “We work so hard sometimes to get a good shot or an offensive board, and then we just throw those opportunities away. That’s something we’ve been focusing on getting away from.”

Northern Iowa is starting three freshmen in a young lineup, but is led by sophomore guard Danielle Wubbens, who scored a team-high 14 points in the season opener.

Senior forward Megan Keefe averaged 9.2 points per game last year and is the only returning player to average more than four points per game at the college level over a full season.

“We talked about going out hungry because Northern Iowa does have freshmen starting, and we know how it was last year, playing against more experienced teams,” McCoy said. “So we’re going to go in there knowing that this is a game we can and should win, and we’re going to take care of business.”

Minnesota, meanwhile, has 81 percent of its scoring back for this season, and if the defense creates the turnovers it has so far this year, the Gophers have the ability to put up a lot of points in a hurry, as they did against Riverside, transitioning quickly from defense to offense for easy baskets.

But Borton said the main goal was to work on improving the team, listing everything from half-court offensive sets to defensive breakdown, to rebounding as things that needed improvement in the coming months.

“Everything that involves the game of basketball, we’re working on,” she said. “We’re still working on fundamentals and breaking down different things so we can become better at it. I don’t think we’re great at anything right now.”