Defensive improvement on the mind of Minnesota with a week off from play

Allowing 63 percent first-half shooting last week, the team has some work to do.

With another week and a half before the next contest, the Minnesota women’s basketball team has plenty of time to iron out any wrinkles in its game.

And following a long stretch of road games with little practice in between, associate head coach Barb Smith said that is exactly what the team needs.

“We’ve almost taken steps backwards, and it’s not that we aren’t working hard, we just haven’t had the practice time,” she said. “From this point to the Iowa State game, we have a lot of time to get back to where we should be, and then by the time the Big Ten season starts, we’ll be ready.”

Defense appears to be the No. 1 concern as the Gophers face an offensive-minded Iowa State team Friday, Dec. 21 at 7 p.m. in Williams Arena.

Minnesota (8-3 overall, 0-0 Big Ten) struggled early defensively in its last game, allowing Utah to shoot 63 percent in the first half. Considering this, Smith said that defense would be the main concern in practice.

“It’s just not habit yet, and we’ve seen that we’re not doing the things we need to in order to be a great defensive team,” she said. “So this week we’ll be going back to the basics and there will be a lot of defensive drills in practice, so it’s fresh in everybody’s mind.”

Iowa State (6-1 overall, 0-0 Big 12) should be a good test for the Gophers’ defense, as the Cyclones have 12 different players who have scored this year, with eight averaging over five points per game.

Iowa State put up 99 points against Sacramento State, with the Cyclones’ only loss coming against No. 25 Vanderbilt, who held the Cyclones to a season-low 53 points.

Maybe the biggest challenge for Minnesota will be Iowa State’s pair of 6-foot-4-inch junior forwards, who have combined for 30 blocks so far this season.

“A lot of their players are tall and lanky,” senior forward Leslie Knight said, remembering last season. “They might block our shots once or twice, but we’ll have to keep going at them, maybe get them into foul trouble.”

But sophomore guard Brittany McCoy said that the Gophers would be focusing more on their own game than worrying about Iowa State at this point.

“Right now we’re working on our defense for these next couple of weeks, and we’re also working on hitting shots,” she said. “We’re just not finishing, and that’s something we really need to work on.”

And when it comes time to look toward the game against the Cyclones, Knight said that it should be her team’s defense that causes concern for them, rather than Iowa State’s offense causing Minnesota to worry.

“They’re going to come here and play in the Barn, which is a different environment,” Knight said. “And with us coming off of about 11 days of focusing on defense, they should be scared of us, because we’re going to be ready to go and show what we’ve been working on.”