Gophers heading to Happy Valley

Gophers vs. St.Marys

Matt Mead

Gophers vs. St.Mary’s

After its impressive win over Michigan State on Monday, the Minnesota womenâÄôs basketball squad is now 3-1 against the three teams sitting above it in the Big Ten standings, but it has struggled to a 4-2 record against teams below it. The Gophers (15-6 overall, 7-3 Big Ten) travel to Penn State (8-12, 3-7) on Thursday to take on the same team it beat 69-55 at home on Jan. 1, but with the Gophers recent offensive struggles, any game could go down to the wire. âÄúYou canâÄôt take a night off in the Big Ten,âÄù Minnesota coach Pam Borton said after the win over Michigan State. âÄúWe have to play every game left like itâÄôs the biggest game of the season.âÄù Borton preached offensive consistency as a key for the GophersâÄô second-half push in the conference schedule, although their first attempt was anything but consistent against the Spartans on Monday. While Minnesota still came out with an impressive 60-44 win over one of the top teams in the Big Ten, it was a tale of two halves for the Gophers offense, shooting 18.5 percent from the field in the first half and 48 percent in the second. Stifling defense was also what the Gophers had to rely on to finish with the victory, as Minnesota created its largest separation of the game when it shut out the Spartans offense to no made field goals in the last seven and a half minutes of the game âÄî a 16-0 run. One reason for the Gophers recent offensive woes is the scoring decline of senior captain Emily Fox, who scored all 10 of her points in the second half of MondayâÄôs game and was 2-of-15 shooting on the night. Junior forward Ashley Ellis-Milan has stepped up nicely to shoulder some of the scoring load for Minnesota, dropping 17 points on Monday night and scoring 13.8 points per game in Big Ten play to lead the team. FoxâÄôs scoring average, on the other hand, has dropped to 10.1 points per game by shooting a rugged 30 percent from the field in conference games, including 23 percent from 3-point territory. The senior guardâÄôs 41 assists and 19 steals led the Gophers in Big Ten play, but the shooting slump is still constantly on FoxâÄôs mind. âÄúItâÄôs very frustrating when IâÄôm working on it all the time. ItâÄôs all mental,âÄù Fox said about her shooting slump. âÄúIf my shotâÄôs not going in, I have to do other things like get my teammates open and get assists and steals.âÄù As a junior, Fox led Minnesota in scoring with an impressive 17.2 points per game in conference play, shooting 44 percent from the field âÄî enough to earn an All-Big Ten First Team selection and a fourth-place finish in scoring. âÄúLast year, I was obviously scoring a lot more, and I think that was my role âÄî to score,âÄù Fox said. âÄúThis year, we have other threats, and I think I am trying to do other things because my shot hasnâÄôt been falling.âÄù FoxâÄôs 12.4 points per game in all Minnesota games this season is her lowest scoring average since her freshman year, as she averaged 12.9 points her sophomore season and 2.4 points her first year with the team. Playing point guard at times this season has given Fox an opportunity to use her unique ball-handling skills and quick moves to the basket, setting up easy shots for her teammates. âÄúIâÄôm just trying to embrace that role and trying to make people better and get them open and do other things,âÄù Fox said. The shooting success of her teammates during the rest of MinnesotaâÄôs games this season could take the defensive pressure off. Freshman guard Kiara BufordâÄôs 16 points on Monday âÄî including four 3-pointers âÄî and junior guard Brittany McCoyâÄôs 9 points and five assists could be a sign of good things to come for Fox and the Gophers. âÄúI focused in practice on attacking down the middle of the floor,âÄù McCoy said after the Michigan State win. âÄúKiara was making her shots, and I was able to find people getting open.âÄù