Women’s hoops outlook for Big Tens is grim

by Jim Schortemeyer

The Minnesota women’s basketball team’s chances of winning the Big Ten tournament, which starts today in Indianapolis, are slim.
That said, there is at least a chance they’ll make it out of the first round. The Gophers (7-19 overall, 2-14 in the Big Ten) will take on Michigan (16-10, 8-8) at 7 p.m.
On the surface, it doesn’t look good for 11th-seeded Minnesota. The Gophers are on a nine-game losing streak, and freshman Cassie VanderHeyden is out for the tournament because she tore her right anterior cruciate ligament during a game against Wisconsin on Sunday.
Still, Minnesota senior Mindy Hansen is confident.
“I think we’re the scariest team to play in the tournament,” Hansen said. “We almost beat Purdue, the No. 1 team in the nation.”
There’s really little doubt about which team is going to win the tournament, however. The Boilermakers haven’t lost since mid-November.
So while the Gophers aren’t harboring thoughts of a championship, they do want to show they’ve improved.
The biggest question for Minnesota is, “Which team will show up for Michigan?” It could be the team that pushed Purdue to the limit last Friday, only to lose 63-61. Or it could be the team that lost to mediocre Wisconsin, 69-56.
“If I have anything to do with it, the team that played Purdue will be there,” Hansen said.
No matter which team shows up, the Gophers are going to be hurting without VanderHeyden, who led Minnesota in scoring during the Big Ten season with 10.3 points per game.
If the Gophers have anything in their favor, it’s that they’ve beaten the Wolverines already this year. Minnesota beat Michigan in Ann Arbor 54-47, but the Wolverines returned the favor by whipping the Gophers 88-65.
With tonight’s game serving as the rubber match, Hansen and the rest of the Gophers are thinking upset.
“I can’t wait to play Michigan,” Hansen said. “Why? Because it’s payback for them coming here and beating us.”
But if Minnesota is going to get a win, the offense needs to come around. The Gophers have been anemic lately on offense, which led coach Cheryl Littlejohn to run some intense offensive drills this week to try and break the slump.
“Score, score, everybody score,” Littlejohn implored during a recent drill at practice.
But with VanderHeyden out, there are more questions than answers for the Minnesota offense. No other Gopher averaged more than 10 points in the Big Ten season. Hansen stepped up with 22 points against Wisconsin, but admitted she was “in the zone.”
There are a handful of Gophers who might be able to carry the team. Sophomore Theresa LeCuyer is re-emerging as a scoring threat, and junior Antoinette Blevins had 18 points the last time she played against Michigan.
And if all else fails, there’s senior Sonja Robinson. The hard-working Robinson pulled down 11 boards against Wisconsin on Sunday, and has scored 10 or more points 13 times this season. She is the team leader in both rebounds and points, though her scoring has been in a slump as of late.
But nobody has been able to stop the team’s slump. During their nine-game losing streak, Minnesota has only finished one game within 10 points of its opposition.
While Minnesota may be teetering on the edge of its final game of the season, Robinson is quick to point out the other side of the coin.
“This could be the end of their season too,” Robinson said. “I’m not ready for my senior season to be over yet.”