Minnesota hits the road to try for second win against Penn State this season

by Paul Cordes

The last time Minnesota’s women’s basketball team had a chance to complete the season sweep of Penn State was the 1994-1995 season. The Gophers will get a chance to sweep the Nittany Lions tonight, which would be the first time in program history.

Add the fact that Minnesota has never won at Penn State, and tonight’s matchup will have added significance. The Gophers are 0-11 at College Station all-time.

Minnesota (14-12 overall, 6-7 Big Ten) set itself up for the sweep with a 75-62 win over the Nittany Lions at Williams Arena in January.

Gophers junior forward Leslie Knight said it would be a special thing to get Minnesota’s first-ever road victory against Penn State.

“It would just be a huge confidence booster,” she said. “It will let us know that we’re capable of winning these games; we should win these games and we’re a good enough team to win these games.”

But the Gophers are going to be a different team than the Nittany Lions saw a month ago.

With senior guard Kelly Roysland sidelined with an injury, the Gophers were forced to mature quickly as they played host to then-No. 10 Purdue and then-No. 4 Ohio State without their senior captain.

Coach Pam Borton said she is still stressing to her team not to get back into the habit of turning to Roysland at every juncture.

“I think it’s normal for younger kids to kind of look to (defer to Roysland),” Borton said. “I think they did a good job last game playing the way they did without Kelly, and then Kelly comes in and just adds to the mix.”

But that doesn’t mean Roysland won’t be a factor against a Penn State team coming off of a tough 64-61 loss at Northwestern.

Roysland’s 20 points in Minnesota’s first meeting against the Nittany Lions (12-13, 5-7) led the team. She also had 12 free-throw attempts, helping the Gophers to a season high in free-throw attempts and free throws made as they went 31-of-38 from the line.

Freshman center Ashley Ellis-Milan went 9-of-10 from the free-throw line while pulling down 11 rebounds, and Knight had a career-high 18 points as she went 8-of-11 from the field.

More impressively, Ellis-Milan and the Gophers held Penn State senior forward Amanda Brown, who is averaging 14 points per game and 10.1 rebounds per game, to just four points and six boards.

Nittany Lions coach Rene Portland said she’ll need a better game from her post players if her team is going to compete.

“We didn’t do a very good job against them at their place,” she said. “Our post players really sat back and let their post players dominate the game, and they’re playing with a lot of confidence right now.”

This game carries a lot of weight in regards to the Big Ten tournament. Minnesota, Penn State, Wisconsin and Illinois will be battling it out the next two weeks for the final two first-round byes.

Roysland said she thinks the Gophers are in a good position to finish the season strong.

“I feel like we’re playing good basketball right now,” she said. “Coming off a win last Sunday boosted our confidence. We’re playing with a lot of confidence right now and we’re playing well.”

Knight’s academic honor

Leslie Knight’s 4.0 grade point average last semester earned her honors from ESPN The Magazine’s Academic All-District Second Team.

Knight, a communications major, has a cumulative 3.82 grade-point average, is averaging 8.9 points per game and leads the team free-throw percentage at 84 percent.

Borton said the honor came as no surprise for her.

“She is a great kid, a great student and she’s proven herself to be a great basketball player,” Borton said. “She works hard on and off the court and I think she’s one of the most improved players in the conference.”