Gophers ready for three road games

by Paul Cordes

The Minnesota women’s basketball team will be playing a few feet closer to the ground than usual as it moves away from the friendly confines of Williams Arena.

The Gophers begin a stretch of three straight road games beginning with a trip to Lincoln to take on Nebraska today at 7 p.m.

“At halftime I really took it in,” said freshman Ashley Ellis-Milan in reference to Williams Arena after Minnesota’s game against Chicago State, “I realized this is the last time we’ll be here in awhile.”

The Huskers (6-1 overall, 0-0 Big 12) are on a hot streak, and their only loss came in their first game of the year against then No. 13 Arizona State.

But after the loss, Nebraska won its last six, including a 66-59 win over then No. 18 New Mexico.

Gophers coach Pam Borton said the Huskers are going to be a great test for what is to come, and playing on the road at a non-neutral site will be new to her team.

“This is the first time this year we’re playing on someone’s home court. I think that’ll be different in itself,” she said, “I think Nebraska is a very good basketball team, I think they’re probably as good as some of the best teams in the Big Ten.”

Minnesota (7-2, 0-0 Big Ten) has yet to play against a team with as competitive a conference schedule as the Big Ten, so tonight’s game and Saturday’s game against Iowa State, both Big 12 schools, could be a telling tale as to where the Gophers would stand in its conference today.

“These Big 12 games will be a great preview to the Big Ten season and give us a taste of what’s to come and of the caliber of players we’re going to be facing,” senior guard Kelly Roysland said. “We’ll see a lot better teams and these two games will be a good test and a good challenge.”

And the leader of that challenge will be Huskers senior guard Kiera Hardy whose 15.9 points per game is a team best. Last year, Hardy lit up for 22 points and five three-pointers in Nebraska’s 78-70 loss at Williams Arena.

“Kiera is unique in that you just don’t see a lot of players with her ability to put the ball in the basket,” Nebraska head coach Connie Yori said. “What’s been even more exciting this year is that we feel like she is contributing more than just in scoring. Her defense is much improved, she’s playing harder and she’s giving us some good leadership this year.”

With that on its plate, Minnesota will need to be at its best and make improvements when it comes to turnovers and free throws, two areas plaguing the Gophers this year.

Minnesota is averaging 19.6 turnovers per game and is shooting just 65.2 percent from the free-throw line.

Roysland talked about some new drills that have been worked into practice to stress protecting to the ball.

“We have to do better at taking care of the ball,” she said. “We’ve implemented little things in practice and I think it’s helping to keep the focus on and putting an emphasis on taking care of the ball.”

With the Gophers’ plethora of freshman about to make their first road trip to a tough environment, Borton said she isn’t worried about how her team will handle and she is looking forward to the challenge.

“We’re going to be excited about playing,” she said. “We aren’t going to be playing the rest of our games in Williams Arena and we have to do it eventually. These games are games we can win, if we play well and improve on the things we’ve been working on.”