In search of just its second conference win, the Gophers women’s basketball team heads to a place that most Big Ten coaches would warn against such hopes — the road.
Minnesota (8-12, 1-8 Big Ten) plays at Wisconsin (10-8, 4-5) today.
“In the Big Ten, it’s a lot harder (to play on the road) because of the attendance factor. I think you go into some very hostile environments,” Badgers coach Jane Albright said. “There’s a lot of things that can happen on the road away from the court. You just have to be a very even-keeled group of people and care about each other.”
The Gophers might not be so anxious to heed Albright’s advice — their only Big Ten win this season was on the road. Minnesota defeated Indiana 61-53 in late December.
A sliding Wisconsin team also brightens the Gophers’ outlook. Tied for sixth with Ohio State in conference standings, the Badgers have built a two-game losing streak after falling at Iowa and Penn State.
“Anybody could show up. They’re aggressive. They’re competitive. They take it at you,” Gophers assistant coach Jody Adams said. “Our goal is to come in and try and contain … that’s how we will approach them.”
In its own game, Minnesota’s concern is playing consistently for 40 minutes. Producing in spurts has plagued the team all season.
As the Gophers head into February action — the last stretch of the regular season — putting together a complete game is crucial to make a move out of last place.
“We’ll be focusing on what things we did well in the first go-around, and we’re looking to improve the things that we need to improve on,” Adams said.
“Our coaching staff has been trying to come together and find out what we need to do to sustain the momentum we’ve seen.”
Despite their record, the Gophers have done some things right.
Minnesota’s strong suit has been outside shooting. Nearly 35 percent of the Gophers’ field goals have come from behind the three-point arc.
The team leads the Big Ten with 117 treys made, just three shy of the program’s record for three-pointers in a season set by last year’s team.
Guards Cassie VanderHeyden and Lindsay Lieser are setting the Gophers’ three-point pace. The duo has combined for 98 three-pointers this year.
After recording two treys at Michigan on Sunday, VanderHeyden is tied for second on Minnesota’s career three-pointer list. With a total of 98, the sophomore shares this spot with Jodi Olson (1987-90) and is chasing Shannon Loeblein (1992-95) with 133 three-point field goals.
The freshman Lieser has become VanderHeyden’s sidekick. Lieser is just eight short of rewriting the program’s single-season record with 56.
Adams credits the big numbers not only to the pair’s gift for shooting from outside, but also to the extra time they spend practicing.
“These are two kids who like to be in the gym,” Adams said. “They are little gym rats.
The two shooters could make a difference against the Badgers. In a road battle, the performance of VanderHeyden and Lieser factor heavily into the Gophers fate.
“We hope to make a run and salvage the year,” Adams said.
Sarah Mitchell covers basketball and welcomes comments at [email protected]