Gophers will try to end losing skid against Buckeyes

Ohio State center Jessica Davenport is averaging 18.7 points per game this season.

by Paul Cordes

Coming off a three-game losing streak, the Minnesota women’s basketball team once again has a difficult task at hand.

For the second straight Thursday, the Gophers will host a nationally ranked team on their home floor as No. 4 Ohio State comes to Williams Arena tonight at 7 p.m.

When No. 10 Purdue came to Minneapolis last Thursday, Minnesota (13-11 overall, 5-6 Big Ten) was a jump shot away from a one-point upset and coach Pam Borton said she hopes her team comes out with the same energy against the Buckeyes as they did against the Boilermakers.

“We have to come out and play with the same urgency we had against Purdue,” she said. “We need to have the same energy and execution on both ends of the floor to put ourselves in the position to potentially upset Ohio State.”

Literally the biggest obstacle in between the Gophers and a victory will be the Buckeyes’ 6-foot-5 All-American senior center Jessica Davenport.

Davenport has already been honored as the Big Ten Player of the Week three times this year. She leads the conference in scoring, averaging 18.7 points per game and is second in rebounding, field goal percentage and blocked shots.

Minnesota freshman center Ashley Ellis-Milan, who scored 10 points and pulled down 10 rebounds against Ohio State earlier this year, said she will go into the game and look at Davenport as an equal.

“I just have to go out there and look at (Davenport) as another Division I, Big Ten basketball player,” she said. “I think against bigger girls in general I am a little more selective and I’ll have to be smart going up against her.

“But If I have a shot I’ll take it and if not I’ll get it out to my teammates.”

One possible outlet for Ellis-Milan is junior forward Leslie Knight. Knight has scored 28 points in the last two games combined and has been a driving force in the Gophers’ offensive production.

Knight, who has the ability to take short jump shots or drive to the basket, could be a good alternative for Minnesota’s guards if Ellis-Milan finds herself with her hands full against Davenport.

“(Knight) has taken on more of a responsibility to be consistent and we can’t have her take a night off,” Borton said. “For her to be able to shoot an outside shot and the moves she has inside are thanks to the work she’s put in the last two years, and she’s playing with a lot of personal responsibility right now.”

Knight also happens to be the Gophers’ leading free throw shooter averaging 83 percent from the line.

The Buckeyes (21-2, 10-0) would help themselves by keeping her off the charity stripe, but Knight said she’s going to go in there and be aggressive and try to get Davenport into foul trouble.

“With a very long arm in there I’ll probably be a little bit more selective with my shots,” she said. “But at the same time it makes me want to be more aggressive because the more fouls we can draw from her the more time she’ll spend on the bench.”

Roysland returning?

After spending the last two weeks on the bench with a broken collarbone, senior guard Kelly Roysland will be returning soon rather than later according to Borton.

A caravan of fans from Fosston, Minn. – Roysland’s hometown – is expected at Minnesota’s game against Indiana this Sunday to honor the Gophers’ lone senior and Borton is hoping to have Roysland in that game.

“We’re not looking for her to come back and be a savior by scoring 20 points or playing 40 minutes,” Borton said. “But we’re looking to have her back by senior day on Sunday.”