Minn. hoping return to the Barn brings better fortune after tough road stretch

The Gophers can get back on track offensively tonight after losses to Purdue and Ohio State.

Mark Heise

Junior guard Emily Fox appeared to be on a roll Wednesday before the Minnesota women’s basketball practice.

The junior, coming off a rough offensive week, knocked down seven consecutive three-pointers, the last coming from well beyond the arc, before heading into the locker room. This performance should be a good sign for the Gophers.

Coming off of two tough road losses, Minnesota will need Fox’s hot shooting at home as it hosts Illinois on Thursday at 7 p.m. and Northwestern on Sunday at 2 p.m. at Williams Arena.

“It’s all mental,” Fox said of last week’s performance. “I know I can shoot the ball, now it’s just a matter of getting it to drop in the games.”

But the return of Fox as a scoring threat will only fix part of the problem the Gophers had last weekend, as Minnesota will have to do a better job of taking care of the ball as well.

“This game is mostly about us. We want to be a better team tomorrow than we were today,” associate head coach Barb Smith said. “What really hurt us last week were our own turnovers. We gave the ball up a lot, and now that’s something we need to concentrate on avoiding.”

Although the Gophers would be an admittedly better team with these two factors going their way, Illinois still could present a challenge tonight.

The Illini topped both Minnesota and Ohio State at home earlier this season, and are led by a talented center in sophomore Jenna Smith.

Smith has averaged 18.5 points per game this season, and grabs just less than 10 boards per game as well. Senior forward Danyel Crutcher completes the double threat from the post, averaging 10.2 points to compliment Smith.

“Illinois is tough,” senior forward Leslie Knight said. “They’ve got great post players, and for them to beat Ohio State shows a lot. It’s a big game for us.”

But one thing Illinois has struggled with this season is winning on the road. The Illini overpowered Michigan on Sunday, marking their first road win of the Big Ten season.

Northwestern, on the other hand, hasn’t been much of a challenge to any Big Ten teams this year.

The Wildcats are not only on an 11-game losing streak, but have lost their conference games by an average of 17.8 points this season.

Freshman center Amy Jaeschke leads Northwestern in scoring during the Big Ten season, averaging 12 points per game.

But considering Minnesota’s offense playing with the comfort of being at home, the Gophers should hold an advantage.

“It’s refreshing to come back home to a place that’s familiar,” Knight said. “It’s a good feeling to have everyone on your side.”