Gophers eyeing top spot in the Big Ten as Purdue comes to the Barn

Sitting one game back of first place in the Big Ten with six conference games remaining, the University of Minnesota womenâÄôs basketball team is still within striking distance of this seasonâÄôs Big Ten championship. The Gophers (17-6 overall, 9-3 Big Ten) have beaten both teams ahead of them in the conference standings in Ohio State (10-2) and Michigan State (10-3). Already claiming wins against eight of the 10 other Big Ten programs, Minnesota has shown that when it plays its best, it can compete with anyone. Unfortunately for the Gophers, one of the two conference teams they havenâÄôt beaten this season is the team traveling into Williams Arena for Thursday nightâÄôs match-up: Purdue. âÄúWeâÄôre just focusing on one game at a time and things will play out as they are supposed to,âÄù Minnesota coach Pam Borton said. âÄúWeâÄôre just going to focus on Purdue and let it fall where it may.âÄù The other loss was against Wisconsin, a team Minnesota will not face again in conference play. Falling 56-43 to the Boilermakers on Jan. 22 in West Lafayette, Ind ., Minnesota was able to stay with Purdue in the first half but quickly found itself down by double-digits in the beginning of the second half. The Gophers shot 32 percent from the field and lost the rebounding battle 35-22 to Purdue. But since the road loss to the Boilermakers, Minnesota has rattled off four straight wins âÄî the longest current streak in the Big Ten âÄî to situate itself at third place in the conference, one-half game ahead of Purdue (9-4). One reason for the GophersâÄô strong record has been their success in close games, something that Borton has been pleased with throughout the season. âÄúI think this team, down the stretch, theyâÄôre going to find ways to win,âÄù Borton said. âÄúI think weâÄôre in great shape, and weâÄôre very focused. We donâÄôt have time to be tired at this time of the year.âÄù The Gophers are 6-0 in Big Ten games decided by six or less points. But down-to-the-wire games have not only occurred for Minnesota this season, as 55 percent of this seasonâÄôs Big Ten games have come down to 10 points or fewer, and 20 percent have been decided by a five-point margin. Coming from behind to win is something the Gophers have also become accustomed to and often flourished in, winning their past three games after trailing at halftime. âÄúMinnesota did a great job of performing at crunch-time,âÄù Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said after MinnesotaâÄôs second-half comeback Sunday. But in order to continue winning into post-season play, Minnesota may need to stop getting down big early. âÄúIn every Big Ten game weâÄôre going to face adversity,âÄù Borton said. âÄúWe faced adversity at Penn State, and weâÄôre going to face it again on Thursday against Purdue.âÄù Along with its strong play in close games and four-game winning streak, Minnesota maintains one more advantage in its second match-up with Purdue: the Barn. Williams Arena has become a safe haven for the Gophers in Big Ten play, being the only conference team undefeated on its home court in Big Ten games âÄî a 6-0 record. âÄú(Williams Arena) is a tough place to play,âÄù Iowa assistant coach Jenni Fitzgerald said Sunday. âÄúNot many people come in here and win.âÄù