Energized Gophers travel to Iowa City

Minnesota has won three straight, while the Hawkeyes were just knocked out of the top-25, having lost two straight.

by Jesse Mandell-McClinton

The womenâÄôs basketball team will try to climb back to .500 on the year when it heads to Iowa Thursday night.

The Gophers (11-12 overall, 3-7 Big Ten) will be looking to put together their first four game winning streak in the Big Ten since the 2008-09 season against a Hawkeyes team that was knocked out of the top-25 this week.

In the teamsâÄô last meeting on Jan. 5, Minnesota let a 13-point halftime lead slip away; at the time, Iowa was 12-3 and ranked No. 21 in the country. This time, the Gophers are looking like the team to watch out for. Minnesota has three straight wins in the Big Ten âÄîthe second longest streak in the conference behind first-place Penn State âÄî and is getting consistent play from their top players.

The Gophers are coming off their first road win of the year, a 65-59 comeback victory over Indiana on Sunday. TheyâÄôll be facing an Iowa team thatâÄôs 35-8 at home since 2008.

Despite the HawkeyesâÄô success at home, head coach Pam Borton said that her team is playing with a different energy than they did during their early season struggles.

âÄúOver the last three games, weâÄôve become a better defensive team,âÄù Borton said during her radio show Tuesday night. âÄúWeâÄôve also become a better rebounding team with the personnel changes weâÄôve made on the floor.âÄù

One of those changes was the decision to start freshman forward Kionna Kellogg. In her three starts during the streak, she has grabbed 34 rebounds and was honored as the Big Ten freshman of the week. After just one start in the teamâÄôs first 20 games, Kellogg seems to have secured her spot in the starting lineup with her dominance on the boards.

Look for Kiara Buford to have a big game. Though she only scored 11 points against the Hawkeyes at home earlier this year, Buford heads into ThursdayâÄôs game averaging about 20 points over her last three games on the road. Last year she filled the stat sheet in Iowa, scoring 23 points, including seven three point shots in a game Minnesota ended up losing 75-54.

Sophomore guard Leah Cotton found the most success for Minnesota in the teamsâÄô previous matchup, scoring 18 points on 8-of-11 shooting. However, Cotton is only averaging three points a game during the current winning streak. This may be the game where she can rediscover the rhythm she found earlier this year, hitting double-figures three times over a five-game stretch in January.

Iowa, whoâÄôs been nationally ranked as high as No. 20 this year, comes into the game trying to avoid its fourth loss in six games. Coming off of back-to-back losses to Purdue and Penn State, the Hawkeyes have dropped to 5-6 in the Big Ten, just two games better than Minnesota.

The Hawkeyes will look to All-America candidate Kachine Alexander to lead the team against the Gophers. The senior guard, who attended Benilde-St. MargaretâÄôs High School in Minneapolis, is averaging 9.5 rebounds per game, good for third in the Big Ten, and put up 20 points on the Gophers in the teamsâÄô previous meeting.

This will be a good test for two teams heading in different directions as Minnesota looks for its first win in Iowa in over four years. The game tips off at 8 p.m. and will be broadcast on the Big Ten Network.