Minnesota trying to rebound from year’s first loss

The Gophers turned the ball over 31 times in their loss to Middle Tennessee.

Paul Cordes

The first loss of the year for the Minnesota women’s basketball team highlighted weak spots for the Gophers.

Tonight’s game against Creighton will be the first opportunity to see if any improvements have been made.

Minnesota will tip-off at 7 p.m. against the Bluejays in its last appearance at Williams Arena until Nov. 30.

The Gophers (3-1 overall, 0-0 Big Ten) have won all four contests against Creighton and will look to make it five against a Bluejays team that is off to its worst start since 1996, losing its first three games of the year.

Creighton junior guard Ally Thrall is the only player scoring in double figures, averaging 14.3 points per game. Thrall is the only true threat the Bluejays have to offer on either side of the ball.

Creighton (0-3, 0-0 Missouri Valley) is allowing a little over 73 points per game and is scoring around 60, which could potentially mean big offensive numbers for Minnesota’s guards.

Sophomore guard Emily Fox, who is averaging 11.8 points per game and leads the team with 21 assists, has settled into an important role in Minnesota’s offense.

“I think Emily has really stepped up this year and she has grown as a person and has matured beautifully,” freshman center Ashley Ellis-Milan said. “She’s our quarterback on the floor. She tells us where to go, tells us what’s going on and I think she’s done a great a job.”

Ellis-Milan has also had opportunities to mature and will have the opportunity to take advantage of Creighton’s 34 rebounds per game, compared to Minnesota’s 44.

She started both games last weekend, replacing freshman center Zoe Harper in the starting lineup. Coach Pam Borton said Ellis-Milan will start again tonight.

Post play had been a worry early for Borton because of her post players’ lack of size, but Ellis-Milan said she thinks their play is improving.

“We are spending a lot of time in practice boxing out and working on technique,” she said. “We know we’re not that big, so Pam is stressing boxing out a lot, and I think we’ve made some big strides.”

Turnovers have certainly played a factor in the Gophers’ previous games, including the 31 turnovers they lost to Middle Tennessee – 15 of those turnovers from Minnesota’s point guards.

Borton said she would continue to stress aggressiveness, but wants her team to take better care of the ball.

“We got extremely careless and we have to take better care of the basketball,” she said.

“I believe in (Fox and freshman guard Brittany McCoy), and I wouldn’t want anybody else running our team other than those kids.”

Headed to Flagstaff

Immediately following the game on Wednesday, Minnesota will board a chartered flight to Flagstaff, Ariz., for the Northern Arizona tournament.

The Gophers will face Wisconsin-Green Bay (1-2 overall 0-0 Horizon League) on Friday at 5:30 and either Kent State (1-1, 0-0 MAC) or Northern Arizona (1-2 0-0 Big Sky) on Saturday.

Wisconsin-Green Bay has four players averaging in double figures, including 6-foot 2-inch senior forward Nicole Soulis, who is averaging 17.3 points per game and nine rebounds. Soulis is a threat in the lane as well as from three-point range, as she is tied for second in three pointers this year.

The Golden Flashes and the Lumberjacks are both evenly matched teams.

Kent State’s two guards are both averaging more than 15 points per game.

Postplay will be the strength for Northern Arizona, however. Senior center Alyssa Wahl is averaging 16.8 points per game and 5.3 rebounds per game.

One worry for Borton’s young team will be how it handles three games in four days. Borton said for her, it’s a catch-22.

“Obviously you want to play a lot of games so you can get that experience and get better through that experience,” she said. “But we also need practice days where we can work on execution and the grocery list of things we have to get better at.”