Hoping to halt woes a decade old

Minnesota is on its worst losing streak since the 2000-01 season. With Northwestern in town, it will try to keep from falling to 0-8 in the Big Ten.

by Jesse Mandell-McClinton

After Michigan State handed the Gophers (8-12 overall, 0-7 Big Ten) their seventh straight loss this weekend in East Lansing, the womenâÄôs basketball team will head into their matchup tonight against Northwestern (14-6, 2-4)  on the programâÄôs worst losing streak since the 2000-01 season.

Minnesota has some solid history on their side this time, as theyâÄôve won 16 of their last 18 against the Wildcats and havenâÄôt dropped a game at home against them in 11 years. However, past success hasnâÄôt had much of an impact on a disappointing season thus far for the Gophers.

âÄúThereâÄôs a lot of things going on, and I think itâÄôs just our team getting over the hump,âÄù head coach Pam Borton said on Tuesday.

Borton also talked about the leadership that the more experienced players need to show, saying that the team is still looking for players that can step up in clutch situations and make plays. She has been shuffling around the lineup of late, trying to find that spark.

âÄúWeâÄôre playing about 10 kids right now,âÄù Borton said. âÄúThatâÄôs a lot; itâÄôs too many, but we have to at this point.âÄù

A key tonight will be Kiara BufordâÄôs ability to score at home. She is averaging just over seven points per game in her three home Big Ten games this year, less than half her season average of 15.2.

Buford bounced back against No. 12 Michigan State on Sunday with 24 points, but as the teamâÄôs leading scorer, she needs to find some consistency at home in order for the team to succeed.

Minnesota also will need continued solid play off the bench from Leah Cotton, who is averaging over 12 points in her last five games. While Borton has said that she likes the spark Cotton adds off the bench, it may be time to find a place for her in the starting lineup.

Minnesota will be facing a Northwestern team that has lost three of their last four games on the road. The Wildcats are led by All-Big Ten center Amy Jaeschke.

Jaeschke, who was also on the Naismith Trophy preseason watch list for best player in the country, is averaging 22.9 points to go along with 9.4 rebounds per game this year, good for second and fourth in the conference, respectively.

The Gophers have been struggling on defense against opponentsâÄô frontcourts lately, giving up double-doubles to Penn StateâÄôs, WisconsinâÄôs and Michigan StateâÄôs top forwards in their last three games.

In last yearâÄôs two matchups against Northwestern, the Gophers were able to hold Jaeschke to an average of just 10.5 points and seven rebounds as they split the season series. TheyâÄôll need to keep her at bay once again tonight if they hope to capture their first conference win of the year.

Minnesota hasnâÄôt lost its first eight conference games since the 1996-97 season and hopes to keep it that way at home Thursday. The game starts at 7 p.m. at Williams Arena and will be broadcast on WCCO radio (830 AM).