Minnesota looks to recover defensive groove vs. Michigan

Minnesota has allowed 52.5 points per game this year and held nine teams below 50 points.

David McCoy

During the last three weeks, Minnesota’s women’s basketball team has been more defensive than a preteen girl about her new braces.

After the first four games of the Big Ten season, Minnesota was 4-0 and, coupled with a 75-35 drubbing of then-No. 23 New Mexico on Jan. 9, held its opponents to no more than 49 points in each contest.

Perhaps most impressive during the five-game streak was Minnesota’s 58-38 win Jan. 13 at Purdue. It was Purdue’s worst offensive outing since 1977, Minnesota’s first win in West Lafayette, Ind., in 20 years and the team’s ninth time holding an opponent below 50 points this season.

But then the Gophers watched the Spartans show a little defensive prowess of their own and score 39 points in the second half en route to a 62-49 victory Sunday in East Lansing, Mich.

Coach Pam Borton said it was just a matter of the heightened level of competition.

“We weren’t playing against the No. 9 team in the country (before),” Borton said.

Center Janel McCarville had a different theory.

“We couldn’t rattle them,” McCarville said. “They weren’t scared because they are a very experienced team.”

But 11th-ranked Minnesota (14-3, 4-1) has a promising chance to bounce back when it plays host to struggling Michigan (4-12, 0-5) tonight at Williams Arena.

Needless to say, the youthful Wolverines – with seven freshmen and an eight-game losing streak – are nowhere near being ranked No. 9 in the country.

Despite the loss at Michigan State, Minnesota is still averaging just 52.5 points allowed per game – good for third in the Big Ten and only a single point behind the leader, No. 5 Ohio State.

The team record, set last year, is 59.7 points allowed per game.

Minnesota’s priority on defense will be stopping Michigan senior forward Tabitha Pool, who is averaging 16.9 points per game.

That responsibility will rest, as it usually does, on junior Shannon Bolden, the Gophers’ long-time defensive stopper.

Bolden’s marks have scored just seven baskets total in the last five games.

But despite Bolden’s shut-down ability, Minnesota will need a team effort on defense and elsewhere to avoid a disastrous second half like Sunday’s.

“The way we got beat was we got outworked and out-hustled,” Borton said. “That’s the way this team’s been playing. That’s why we got beat.”

Schonrock’s foot ailing

Minnesota point guard Shannon Schonrock suffered a partially torn tendon in her left foot about a month ago, and she has been wearing a brace on her leg in practice to reduce pain and to stabilize the tendon.

Schonrock, who has not seen any reduced time because of the injury, said it’s really no big deal.

“The wheels aren’t coming off,” Schonrock said. “Every player has to deal with injuries once in a while, mine are day-today.”