Gophers in need of road wins, but they’re not coming easy

Minnesota has struggled greatly away from Williams Arena this season.

If the Big Ten women’s basketball tournament began today, Minnesota would be sitting on a No. 4 seed, scheduled to play Indiana in Conseco Fieldhouse in Indiana.

And with the Gophers’ current four-game losing streak on the road, that could create some problems for Minnesota.

The Gophers (17-8 overall, 8-5 Big Ten) will get a chance to work on their play away from home this week however, as the team travels to Penn State tonight for a 7 o’clock game before heading to Iowa to take on the conference-leading Hawkeyes on Sunday for a game slated for a 3:30 p.m. start.

And despite the road being a tough place for any Big Ten team, sophomore forward Ashley Ellis-Milan said that the road wins would be just as important as the rest of the games on the Gophers’ schedule, and stressed the importance of playing with the right mindset.

“I know we’ve had some difficulties on the road,” Ellis-Milan said. “We just have to go in with the mindset that we’re going to win, and express that confidence during the game.”

Penn State (13-11, 4-8) struggled against the Gophers earlier in the year, as Ellis-Milan put up a career-high 22 points against the Nittany Lions en route to a 67-50 drubbing.

Minnesota held junior run-and-gun guard Brianne O’Rourke to just six points and played solid defense to hold Penn State to a field goal percentage of .377.

The Nittany Lions have not played well since that game, losing seven of their last eight after starting the conference season with a promising 4-3 record.

But sophomore guard Brittany McCoy said she wasn’t taking anything for granted going into Penn State, and said the team would have to play well to pick up a win.

“Penn State’s a tough place to play,” she said. “They usually have a good crowd, so it’s definitely going to be a good game. It will be important for us to control the tempo.”

On the other side of the spectrum, Iowa has been red-hot as of late, winning their last eight games to grab sole possession of first place in the conference.

The Hawkeyes topped Minnesota in overtime at Williams early in the season, making use of having five different players reach double figures in scoring while shooting more than 50 percent from the field.

Junior guard Kristi Smith leads the team in scoring, averaging 13.5 points per game, while junior forward Wendy Ausdemore has proven to be a real threat from beyond the three-point arc, shooting more than 43 percent from the outside to average 11.3 points per game.

Another one of the Hawkeyes’ strengths has been their ability to rebound, something coach Lisa Bluder called an attribute marked by attitude.

“I’ve always tried to pride myself on having a good rebounding team,” she said. “I think our team has really bought into the fact that rebounding is an important part of the game.”

In the end, Sunday’s game should come down to Iowa’s offense against Minnesota’s offense, which, according to McCoy, should favor the Gophers.

“On the offensive end we’ve got a lot of good stats,” McCoy said. “We’re a great shooting team right now.”