Gophers draw Penn State for first round of Big Ten tourney

Minnesota has already beaten the Nittany Lions two times this season.

by Aleutian Calabay

It has been a long, uphill road for the Minnesota womenâÄôs basketball team all season long. Sparing the Gophers of making an unlikely run to win the Big Ten Tournament, the road will come to an end this weekend. Minnesota (13-16, 6-12 Big Ten) would need a .500 record to be eligible for the womenâÄôs National Invitational Tournament. The only way the Gophers could amass three victories would be to win the conference tournament, which would propel the Gophers into the NCAA Tournament. The Gophers finished the regular season last in the Big Ten and carry the 11th seed into the tournament, making them a long shot to take down conference foes, much less No. 10 Ohio State or No. 25 Michigan State. âÄúYou hope as coach that itâÄôs a new start, and we want to keep our hopes and dreams alive and make a run,âÄù Minnesota head coach Pam Borton said. âÄúTheyâÄôre just going out, and every single person on this team is giving their best effort and doing the best they can.âÄù If there is any luck left to be found for Minnesota, it will be seen in the teamâÄôs first round game against Penn State at 1:30 p.m. Thursday. The Gophers have won six games in a row against the Nittany Lions (16-12, 8-10). Minnesota beat Penn State at home 56-48 in early December to open the conference schedule, and again in mid-February, 59-52, for one of only two road victories on the season. âÄúEverything this time of year is all about matchups. They say itâÄôs tough to beat a team three times, but if youâÄôre better than that team then you should beat them three times,âÄù Borton said. âÄúItâÄôs been two close games, and IâÄôm sure itâÄôs going to be a close game on Thursday, as well.âÄù The Gophers have been continually increasing the playing time of younger players as they continue to set their sights on 2010-11. In the regular season finale against Michigan State, Minnesota gave freshman Katie Loberg and Leah Cotton and sophomores Kiara Buford, Jackie Voigt and Brianna Mastey a combined total of 103 minutes on the court. While Buford and Voigt have been starters throughout the season, other players, like Loberg, are beginning to show what they can accomplish when given playing time. Loberg finished the game against the Spartans with career highs with 10 points and 11 rebounds, eight of which came on the offensive end. âÄúI think Katie has played great. SheâÄôs showing what a little athleticism and a little length can do,âÄù Borton said. âÄúIt makes things a lot easier when you can put some baskets in from the paint.âÄù Should the Gophers advance past Penn State, they would face third-seeded Iowa in the second round Friday afternoon.