Women hoopsters keep their heads up

Before last Sunday, Minnesota’s women’s basketball team hadn’t lost three consecutive games since Cheryl Littlejohn was coach and the team went 8-20 overall in the 2000-01 season.

However, even after dropping three straight Big Ten games after a 15-0 start, current coach Pam Borton keeps the record in perspective.

“So much is everyone else’s perception,” Borton said. “Last year we lost three or four at this same time, and everyone else was pushing the panic button rather than the coaching staff and the team.”

The 14th-ranked Gophers tip off against Indiana tonight at Williams Arena, looking to regain their footing after losing three grueling games versus No. 6 Purdue, No. 5 Penn State and No. 18 Michigan State.

“No matter if you are on a 15-game winning streak or a three-game losing streak, it is important that you stay very grounded,” Borton said. “You can’t get too high and you can’t get too low.”

In contrast to when the Gophers were the only undefeated team in the nation two weeks ago, the idea now is to not be on the low end.

“January, February and March is a grind you have to just get through, and you have to be even more mentally tough at the end of the game,” senior Lindsay Whalen said.

The Gophers were not mentally tough at the end of the game last Sunday, committing four turnovers in the last five minutes in their loss to Michigan State.

But after the latest loss, junior Janel McCarville said the team has taken in some valuable game experience it can’t simulate in practice.

“Everything is preparing us for what is next,” McCarville said. “The conference season is preparing us for March.”

The Gophers bench players – only three deep – are all freshmen and are the relief for the starters, some of whom are playing close to 40 minutes per game.

Minnesota guard Kelly Roysland is the only freshman averaging more than 16 minutes per game. And freshman Liz Podominick, the Gophers’ first McDonald’s All-American, has seen her playing time drop off the charts after the Michigan game Jan. 1.

“We have to get all three of (the freshmen) through the tough weeks in January and give them the confidence that they can come in and help us,” Whalen said.

Once March rolls around, the freshmen will need to take up more of their share of minutes so fatigue doesn’t bite and create mistakes late in games, like against the Spartans.

Minnesota is also looking for a reliable third scorer to complement Whalen and McCarville on a nightly basis.

In some games, that third scorer has been Shannon Schonrock, while in others it’s been Kadidja Andersson or Roysland.

“That’s one thing at the beginning of the season we needed,” Borton said. “Right now we don’t have a consistent third scorer.”

The questions mount from abroad as the Gophers have lost arguably their toughest three-game stretch of the season.

But Borton said the team isn’t getting too low. Now, their sanguine eyes turn toward the Hoosiers and the rest of their Big Ten campaign.

Whalen agrees.

“I don’t see any panic in any of us,” she said.

Barn notes

• The Gophers are 23-2 since switching to Williams Arena from the Sports Pavilion. Michigan State owns both victories in The Barn.

• Whalen will be honored with a pregame ceremony tonight at Williams Arena. The first 9,000 fans will receive a 5-inch-by-7 inch commemorative photo of her.