Women’s hoops first Big Ten road win will hinge on ‘D’

Aaron Blake

First-year Ohio State women’s basketball coach Jim Foster knows something about how hot-shooting teams operate and how to shut them down.

In 2001-02, Foster’s last year at Vanderbilt, the Commodores led the nation in field goal shooting at 54.5 percent. So far this year, first-year Minnesota coach Pam Borton’s squad holds this distinction (53.4).

On Thursday, the 15th-ranked Gophers travel to Columbus for a showdown that pits their best-in-conference offense against the 25th-ranked Buckeyes’ best-in-conference defense.

With over 20 years of coaching experience including several Elite Eight dates and one Final Four appearance, Foster runs a disciplined team that ranks nationally in scoring defense (19th), field goal percentage offense (fourth), and fewest fouls committed (third).

With the Buckeyes’ stingy defense, Minnesota knows it will have to match the intensity that held Northwestern to 56 points Sunday but that it’s lacked in its three road losses. In those three games, the Gophers allowed an average of 83.7 points per game.

“Purdue had a tough time scoring against their defense the other night,” Borton said. “But Purdue got stops at the other end and that’s why they won.

“That’s a mentality that we’re still learning on this team. If our offense isn’t going because they’re a tough defensive team, we’ve got to make it tough for them to score.”

Despite Borton’s season-long emphasis on defense, she sat her team down Tuesday to critique how it played offensively against Northwestern.

One area Borton seeks improvement in is getting the ball to post players Janel McCarville and Kim Prince. Against Northwestern, the two combined for only seven field goal attempts.

Borton admits it is considerably harder to insert the ball into the post against zone defenses such as the one Ohio State plays. Nonetheless, she expects both McCarville and Prince to work harder to get the ball and the guards harder to get it to them.

Guard Lindsay Whalen also stresses her team’s need to return to the transition style it has not been able to muster of late in order to rectify the Gophers’ performance on the road.

Each team is recovering from a pair of recent road losses-Minnesota (16-3, 5-3 Big Ten) to Michigan State and Illinois, and Ohio State (15-5, 6-3) to Penn State and Purdue.

“It’s going to be a battle,” Whalen said. “Both teams really need this game. We have the mentality that we know we can do it.”

Gaining this mentality hasn’t been easy for the Gophers. Still 0-3 on the road in the Big Ten and facing a hungry Buckeyes team that is 10-0 at home doesn’t seem like an ideal scenario for dropping the stigma.

“I don’t think there’s a team in this league that feels comfortable on the road,” Foster said. “I don’t think (the Gophers) are any different than anybody else. Winning on the road this year is proving to be difficult.”

Borton said since her team’s first road loss at Penn State on Feb. 23 that they lacked the intensity they display at home. Figuring out how to get pumped up away from Williams Arena has been Minnesota’s Achilles’ heel.

Perhaps they can think of

themselves as dual citizens, with their new leader being a born-and-raised Buckeye.

Growing up in Fayette, Ohio, and attending school at both Defiance College and Bowling Green, Borton admits she still bleeds scarlet and grey for other sports.

“I grew up there, but I’m a Gopher now.”

Borton can only hope her team feels as at home in Columbus as she does.

Aaron Blake covers women’s basketball and welcomes comments at [email protected]