Each game vital at top of tight Big Ten

Minnesota is third in the Big Ten despite a conference record of 7-1.

Emily Wickstrom

With the Big Ten title race as close as it is, losing once could prove disastrous for Minnesota’s women’s basketball team.

Despite having just one conference loss, the 12th-ranked Gophers (15-4, 7-1 Big Ten) sit in third place in the Big Ten.

No. 8 Purdue has looked unbeatable at times, with a 9-0 Big Ten record. And Minnesota also remains half a game behind No. 7 Ohio State, which is 8-1.

The Gophers will try to continue their hunt for the regular season title today, when they take on Illinois at 7 p.m. in Assembly Hall in Champaign, Ill.

If they win, they will tie their strongest conference start ever.

“We’re in the second lap of the Big Ten and we’ve just got to continue worrying about one game at a time,” coach Pam Borton said. “If we approach every game like that, we’re going to be fine.”

Beating the Illini, who are currently seventh in the conference with a 4-5 record, is crucial, especially considering the road games Minnesota has left.

Next week the Gophers travel to No. 17 Michigan State and Purdue.

At the halfway point, Borton said there is still much the Gophers want to work on, including reducing turnovers and opponents’ offensive rebounds.

“We’re not playing our best basketball right now,” Borton said. “We definitely can get a lot better.”

After relying on balanced scoring most of the season, the Gophers’ past few games have been different.

Minnesota’s bench, after scoring 55 of 71 points against Michigan State on Jan. 15, has dropped off, scoring just 15 points in Sunday’s victory over Penn State.

But much of that is likely due to the fact that the Gophers need junior forward Jamie Broback on the floor.

Broback went on an offensive splurge last week, scoring 33 and 25 points, respectively, on her way to Big Ten Player of the Week honors.

“I have a lot more confidence with the ball,” Broback said. “I’ve been given the ball at good situations, either on post ups or open jumpers, and I think this comes from our team’s depth and how everyone can score.”

At times, Broback has been able to score at will, with a spurt of 12 straight points Thursday against North Dakota State and scoring Minnesota’s first 10 points of the second half against Penn State.

But Broback is doing more than just scoring, said senior guard Shannon Schonrock.

“It’s also how well she can pass the ball and create for her teammates,” Schonrock said. “On the defensive end she’s drawing a lot of charges. She’s the type of player that does make people around her better.”