Busy weekend for Gophs starts tonight

Minnesota will take on Virginia Tech on the road, then head home Sunday.

Mark Heise

As good as the Minnesota women’s basketball team has been so far this season, it will need to continue to improve as the team prepares for the upcoming conference season.

As the Gophers (7-1 overall, 0-0 Big Ten) travel to Virginia Friday to take on Virginia Tech at 6 p.m., and face Charlotte on Sunday at 2 p.m. in North Carolina, they will need to continue the defensive pressure that has been present in every game except Virginia.

“The defense has always been how coach Borton says we’re going to win,” junior guard Emily Fox said. “We know how to play it, but it’s just a matter of us staying dedicated and keeping tight, and if everyone understands that, we have the opportunity to be a pretty good team.”

Virginia Tech and Charlotte are both running teams like Minnesota, and the Hokies have used that to their advantage, forcing nearly 24 turnovers per game to stoke its quick offense.

Virginia Tech (5-1, 0-0) is led by junior guard Brittany Cook, who has averaged 18.8 points per game, and has benefitted from the spark freshman guard Andrea Barbour has brought to the team. Barbour has averaged 17.5 points per game so far this season.

With two strong guards and an ability to put up points quickly, the Gophers will have their hands full. But associate head coach Barb Smith said that Minnesota would slow down the Hokies by controlling the tempo of the game.

“I think for both of these games, we’re going to have to understand that we have a similar style to both teams,” she said. “We’re going to have to understand that there are times to run and times to slow down, and we’re going to have to play our game in opposing gyms.”

Charlotte (3-5, 0-0) is coming off of three consecutive wins, and will be led by junior forward Danielle Burgin, who at 6 feet, 5 inches, towers above most players and averages 13 points and 10 rebounds per game.

Senior guard Sabrina Gregory has added 10.3 points per game, and leads the team with 11 steals.

But of the teams, none have had as much success as Minnesota so far. The Gophers have already notched seven wins on their belts, including a come-from-behind win against No. 21 Louisville.

That, junior guard Kay Sylva said, gave the team plenty of confidence.

“I think our start to the year has given us a lot of confidence and shown us what we can do,” she said. “It’s also a learning curve for us, we’re learning a lot from these games and especially from the loss. It sucks that you have to lose to learn but we learned a lot and we bounced back.”

Minnesota will bring a very balanced offense to the East coast, with Fox leading the way with 17 points per game.

Sophomore forward Ashley Ellis-Milan has come on strong in the last few games and is averaging 12 points per game, and the Gophers have seven players scoring seven or more points for them.

“We’re proud of where our team is right now,” Smith said. “I think our kid’s maturity and focus level has really paid off.”