Road trip to Penn State will test women’s hoops

Dan Miller

Minnesota women’s basketball coach Pam Borton said her team is traveling to meet Big Ten-leading seventh-ranked Penn State at the perfect time.

She said the Gophers’ loss at Purdue on Sunday was a perfect warmup for the similar conditions the team will face in State College, Pa., tonight.

Snapping their 15-game winning streak at Purdue, the now-ninth-ranked Gophers play their second of a three-game set versus nationally-ranked Big Ten opponents at the Bryce Jordan Center tonight.

With all of Borton’s optimism, the Gophers have no doubt hit a point in the season that will test their team toughness. And to Borton it is a perfect test.

“There are just a lot of things going on right now and this team is being pulled in 150 different directions,” Borton said.

“These kids are in uncharted waters. They have never been in this kind of spotlight and pressure.”

The Gophers do have a lot going on.

The team is among the group of national elite to which the program and players have never belonged. Media attention and public interest are also at unprecedented levels. And the student-athletes must also handle their academic workloads.

With the Gophers bench consisting of all new faces, there is reason to fear the number of things going on could present problems – especially for the freshmen. But, ironically, the player most affected by the buzz might be a senior.

Lindsay Whalen, who, over her last two games, is averaging 13.5 points per game (eight below her average) and has had seven turnovers, has been the focus of much of the hype and expectations.

But Whalen has decided to forget about all the attention and the record – she needs 17 points to become the all-time Minnesota scoring leader – and get back to why she started playing ball as a little girl – having fun.

Whalen spoke of the questions about the team and the scoring record.

“It’s something you have to do,” she said. “But when you analyze and get caught up in it, you have to go back to why you started playing the game.”

And she will be glad when the record is out of the way.

“I haven’t thought about it much, but it will be nice to get it done with,” she said.

All this leads up to the tip-off at 7 tonight against Penn State.

Whalen’s fellow senior Lions’ star Kelly Mazzante pushed her record out of the way Sunday, becoming the Big Ten’s all-time leading scorer.

The Gophers have seen Mazzante for four years and the past indicates it will take more than one player to keep her in check.

“She’s going to get points,” junior Janel McCarville said. “But it has to be a team effort to stop her.”

Minnesota’s defense will have to be conscious of the other Lions who boast the reigning Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, Tanisha Wright, who averages 15.3 ppg.

The Gophers are far-reeling and far from make-or-break games, but they are feeling a mid-season strain.

With all that’s “going on,” a victory would be a perfect result at the perfect time.