Games deemed must-wins

Dan Miller

Minnesota’s 12th-ranked women’s basketball team has entered must-win mode.

With two games left on the schedule, teams jockeying for position and the Big Ten Tournament around the corner, the Gophers have two critical games in the next four days.

“This is the most important week of basketball we’ve played all season,” Minnesota coach Pam Borton said. “These are must-win games for us.”

The Gophers (20-5, 9-5 Big Ten) tip off against Ohio State tonight at Williams Arena – and Minnesota’s last regular-season home game has turned into a showdown with the No. 25 Buckeyes (17-8, 9-5), who are one of three other teams tied with the Gophers for third place in the conference.

The next four days will be definitive in determining the Big Ten champion and which of the six teams will get the five byes in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament.

The Gophers, who now have a shallow three-person bench, do not want to be left out and face the possibility of playing four games in five days.

“There is a lot riding on these next two games,” Borton said.

The first of the two will likely be the most challenging against a Buckeyes team Borton calls the most improved in the Big Ten.

The last meeting between the two teams in Columbus, Ohio, gives the Gophers painful memories. Minnesota’s star Lindsay Whalen, who is now wearing a hot pink cast on her hand, went down late in the first half of the Feb. 12 game. The Buckeyes then proceded to hand the Gophers a 75-57 lashing.

“We might have gone into that game underestimating them a little bit,” Janel McCarville said. “They didn’t have a very good record in the Big Ten, and we were pretty confident.”

After a rout of Northwestern last Sunday, the Gophers are again confident, but this time wary.

They are well aware of what the Buckeyes are capable of and also what a win could mean for their seeding in the Big Ten Tournament and the NCAA tournament.

The next week could get messy in figuring the Big Ten standings and seedings. Purdue and Penn State will finish with the top two spots, but the next four spots are where things get complicated. Four teams are currently tied and vying for the third spot in the conference.

If the Gophers beat Ohio State they will have at least one victory over the Buckeyes and Iowa, but will still be 0-1 against Michigan State. The Spartans play Penn State on Thursday. The Lions have lost only one Big Ten game.

“There are a lot of ifs and ands, and if this team beats that team,” Borton said. “But if we take care of business and win our last two games then we’ll finish in the top three.”

The Gophers’ situation should definitely become a lot simpler if they win the next two games.

“We just have to take care of one game at a time and handle Ohio State,” Borton said. “That is going to be enough to handle right there.”

Barn notes

Seven Gophers will be honored in a ceremony prior to tip-off on Thursday. Three of them are closing out four-year careers: Kadidja Andersson, Leslie Hill and Lindsay Whalen. Andersson will be the only one of the three playing in the game as Hill and Whalen are out with injuries. Minnesota senior Lori Dimitroff will also be honored as well as team managers Randi Gibbons, Julie Schmitz and Ricky Wallin.

After suffering 20 losses in their freshman season, the senior class of 2003-04 has only 19 losses over the last three years.