Gophers in need of signature win against Purdue

Minnesota enters this pivotal matchup on a four-game winning streak.

Minnesota guard Rachel Banham dribbles toward the basket Feb. 24, 2013, at Williams Arena.

Daily File Photo, Ichigo Takikawa

Minnesota guard Rachel Banham dribbles toward the basket Feb. 24, 2013, at Williams Arena.

Jack Satzinger

The Gophers enter Thursday’s matchup against No. 21 Purdue with their four-game winning streak on the line.

This game against a ranked opponent offers a chance for Minnesota to make a statement.

“I think [a win would] be huge — beating bigger teams is going to be a big deal for us,” junior guard Rachel Banham said.

Every game is an opportunity for the team, head coach Pam Borton said, but this one feels different.

That’s because the last time Minnesota played a ranked opponent, it lost at Penn State by 30 points.

A lot has changed since then, though.

“We’re in a good flow,” Banham said. “We’ve had less players, and we’ve been able to fight through it.”

The Gophers are currently playing with seven players after three role players have gone down with injuries.

Minnesota freshman Amanda Zahui B. said the other players on the team have stepped up in their absence.

“We’re playing better because people are taking on bigger roles and more responsibility,” she said.

Zahui B. said she played the last game for fallen teammate Jackie Johnson, who is out for the season with a left knee injury.

“I told her before the [last] game, ‘I’m playing this game for you because I know how much you want to be out there,’” she said. “I know how it feels to not be on the floor.”

With Johnson out, the Gophers have just three post players on the roster. Borton has experimented with four-guard lineups in the past, which might be necessary if a post player gets in foul trouble.

Borton will likely sport such a lineup once Stabresa McDaniel or Shayne Mullaney returns after being out with concussion-like symptoms.

Borton said McDaniel has returned to practice this week, but she said McDaniel won’t be able to pass concussion tests quickly enough to play Thursday night. Mullaney is still listed as day-to-day.

Minnesota is currently one of the last four teams projected to make the NCAA tournament, according to ESPN.com. With four games left on the schedule, the team is focusing on ways to get a little higher.

“I just think we need to keep the momentum going over these next four, and that will put us in a good position,” Banham said.