Regroup needed for women’s hoops against Northwestern

by Aaron Blake

With a week off after a pair of disappointing road losses to Michigan State and Illinois, Minnesota’s women’s basketball team has been given time to right its ship in preparation for Northwestern on Sunday.

The 15th-ranked Gophers play host to the Wildcats on Sunday at 2 p.m. at Williams Arena.

The week of practice also has given coach Pam Borton the chance to convince herself of something.

“I’m going to see a different basketball team on Sunday than I have the last two games,” Borton said. “We need this game for a lot of reasons. We need to play at home, we need to get a win, and we need this game before we go to Ohio State on Thursday.”

The Northwestern game is a good one to need for the Gophers (15-3, 4-3 Big Ten), by virtue of the Wildcats’ years of struggles in conference play.

Until the 2002 season, Northwestern was the only team preventing the Gophers from being the sole doormat of the Big Ten. Of the seven Big Ten wins former coach Cheryl Littlejohn amassed in four years, three came at the hands of the Wildcats.

The Wildcats (6-13, 1-7) broke their 43-game Big Ten losing streak this season; their last win came on Jan. 20, 2000, versus Minnesota. A week later, they began anew, and have lost six-straight conference games.

Facing Northwestern at home – where they are 7-0 this season – makes the Gophers a heavy favorite.

Besides getting back on track as a team, reigning Big Ten Player of the Year Lindsay Whalen needs to return to her usual prowess.

Borton says Lindsay Whalen, who scored just 20 points against the Spartans and Illini, has worked the hardest she’s ever seen her work in practice this week.

“We as a team know we play well at home in front of fans,” guard Corrin Von Wald said. “We need to get confidence and our game plan together before going to Ohio State (on Feb. 6).”

While coach Borton and her team are anxious to get the Big Ten road monkey off their back (they are 0-3), it is easy for them to look past fodder such as Northwestern.

After all, Minnesota’s recent struggles on defense shouldn’t be tested with the Wildcats’ worst-in-conference offense (53.5 points per game).

In addition, the aforementioned match-up next Thursday at first-place Ohio State (15-3, 6-1) represents a turning point for their season.

Looking ahead is Borton’s job, though.

“We’re excited to play at home on Sunday,” Borton said. “But I, as the head coach, can’t help but look ahead at our next three road games.

“This is a great game to get ourselves back on track if we can get a win. It’s my job as head coach to look ahead a little but make sure nobody else does.”