Minnesota’s regular season begins

The Gophers won both of their exhibition games against Division II foes.

Paul Cordes

After two blowout exhibition victories, the Minnesota women’s basketball team is about to get its first real challenge of the season against Northern Iowa.

The Gophers will start their five-game home stand tonight at Williams Arena, with tip-off at 6 p.m.

The Panthers finished third last year in a competitive Missouri Valley Conference and were picked to finish in the same position this year.

Northern Iowa struggled last year to score points, averaging just 62.3 points per game, putting them in last place in the league in scoring. But the lack of offense allowed the 2006 MVC Defensive Player of the Year, Cassie Hager, to shine for the Panthers.

With the loss of Hager and her defensive skill to graduation, Northern Iowa will have to score some points this year, and it will likely look to senior forward Tara King for that.

She’ll be a danger for the Gophers after averaging 14.3 points per game last year while knocking down 47.7 percent of three-pointers, which was good enough to lead the conference.

Even though the Panthers will be a challenge for Minnesota, coach Pam Borton said she is ready to move on from practice and get her team on the floor.

“I think we’re ready to get this show on the road,” she said. “We’re moving in the right direction and we need to continue to do that and move forward.”

Standing in the way of that forward progress will be the four returning starters the Panthers will rely on. Their fast-break offense could haunt Minnesota, especially as the Gophers are coming off a 21-turnover performance against Crookston.

Sophomore guard Emily Fox said she is taking on a personal responsibility as a ball handler to limit the turnovers.

“I think we’re going to work on being more disciplined and taking care of the ball,” she said. “As a point guard, I have a lot of responsibility to do that, so I’m going to really focus on it.”

The young Gophers team will have two starters and potentially four players coming off the bench, who will all see their first Division I play.

Although the underclassmen showed some promise in the exhibition games, the switch from two mediocre Division II teams to an experienced Division I team could put a lot of pressure on the freshmen.

Freshman guard Korinne Campbell is one of those inexperienced players who will be seeing her first true college game tonight. After scoring 25 points in the exhibition games, she said she’s confident in herself and her team.

“I definitely feel like we’re ready to start the regular season,” she said. “Of course, there are some things we need to work on, but I think we’re ready to come out and sneak up on some people.”

Borton said she knows her team has some work to do, but she doesn’t expect it to be playing its best basketball at the beginning of November.

“I think we feel that we have to get better in a lot of different areas,” she said. “But there are a lot of things that we’re doing that I’m very pleased with, and we’re just going to keep heading in the right direction and continue to focus on the things that have made this a very good program.”