Steady defense the key as Big Ten season closes

David McCoy

It’s been the most reliable thing for Minnesota’s women’s basketball team this season.

But still, coach Pam Borton said Minnesota’s defense will be the biggest thing her team must stress when it hits the floor in its final week before the Big Ten tournament.

Minnesota is locked in as the fourth seed in the tournament and has road games at bottom-dwelling Indiana (10-15, 3-11 Big Ten) and Northwestern (5-22, 2-12) as its only regular season games left.

The Gophers play Indiana in Bloomington, Ind., today at 7 p.m.

Accordingly, the 15th-ranked Gophers (20-6, 10-4) have taken the focus off of winning and placed it on fine-tuning a certain area of their game.

And even though they are tied for the second-best scoring defense in the Big Ten at 55.4 points per game, that area is defense.

“We have to execute and be focused on executing how Minnesota wants to play defense,” Borton said. “These last two games, we could go in and win handily, or these games could be really ugly, or they could be close games. Everything’s under our control.”

So it comes as no surprise that Borton, who has always been a stickler for a defense-first mentality, would stress perfecting Minnesota’s defensive unit.

Focusing on defense has worked well for the Gophers, who will tie their 16-game mark for wins in the Big Ten if they win both games.

Much of that has to do with the defense, which has helped in the absence of Lindsay Whalen.

Minnesota is on pace to shatter its team-record 59.7 points allowed per game record set last year and also tied a 28-year-old team mark by holding its 11th opponent below 50 points Feb. 13 versus Purdue.

A record-breaking 12 and 13 times is certainly possible against the likes of the Hoosiers and Wildcats, whom the Gophers have already held to 47 and 44 points, respectively.

Granted, it’s always more difficult on the road. But center Janel McCarville said it’s also more important.

“Shots aren’t going to fall as well on the road as they do at home,” McCarville said. “And that’s why defense is so important to us.”

Borton said Minnesota breaking the record doesn’t even amount to an afterthought. But it just goes to show there is not a lot that needs improvement.

And that’s still the goal.

“I just think it’s making sure we’re playing Minnesota defense,” guard Shannon Schonrock said. “It’s just getting back to basics. When we really play the way that we can, our defense is pretty tough.”

McCarville makes cut

McCarville has been named one of 30 players to make the midseason cut for the Naismith Trophy, given annually to the top player in women’s college basketball. The final ballot will be released in March.