Minnesota in search of .500 at home

Minnesota hosts Michigan State at Williams Arena on Thursday.

Senior Kiara Buford runs hard against Alcorn State Sunday afternoon in Williams Arena. The Gophers led past both Harvard and Alcorn State in the Best Buy Classic this weekend.

Nicola Losik, Daily File Photo

Senior Kiara Buford runs hard against Alcorn State Sunday afternoon in Williams Arena. The Gophers led past both Harvard and Alcorn State in the Best Buy Classic this weekend.

Betsy Helfand

Coming off of two consecutive Big Ten losses, Minnesota (10-9, 2-3 Big Ten) will try to get back in the win column against last yearâÄôs Big Ten champion Michigan State (12-6, 4-1 Big Ten) on Thursday at Williams Arena.

âÄúWeâÄôll be excited here to play at home. I think we have a little of a bit of a bad taste in our mouth because of how the Michigan game went,âÄù head coach Pam Borton said Monday during her weekly radio show on 1500 ESPN.

Although the Gophers out-rebounded the Wolverines 44-29 during their Jan. 15 game, they were unable to maintain control of the ball, committing 22 turnovers in a matchup in which Borton said she believes her team was superior.

Senior guard Kiara Buford and freshman guard Rachel Banham led the team in turnovers Sunday, each with four.

âÄúI can live with a freshman turning the ball over âĦ but itâÄôs everybody else,âÄù Borton said on her show. âÄúI think when youâÄôve got some veterans out there that have a lot of games and a lot of minutes under their belt, they have to take care of the ball a little bit better. They have to play smarter; theyâÄôve been in these positions before.âÄù

In addition to committing fewer turnovers, Borton said that the team needs to âÄúget more people involved in the offense and scoring,âÄù so that they donâÄôt have to âÄúexpect Rachel [Banham] to put up 28 points a night.âÄù  Banham had a career-high 28 points in the loss to Michigan.

Banham, whose 15.5 points per game leadsthe Gophers, was named Tuesday Big Ten Freshman of the Week for the fourth time of the season. She was also named Big Ten Player of the Week on Jan. 9.

âÄúI think sheâÄôs a special player. I donâÄôt think anybody thought sheâÄôd be playing this well this early in her career,âÄù Borton said on the show.

BanhamâÄôs backcourt mate, Buford, who injured her left wrist against Purdue, is expected to play against Michigan State. Borton said that since BufordâÄôs injury is on her left hand, she does not expect her to be much affected by the injury.

The Spartans suffered their first conference defeat, a 64-56 home loss to No. 11 Ohio State, on Jan. 15.

Borton said on the show that the Spartans run a lot of ball screens, and they are âÄúpretty disciplined in running their [plays] and getting the right people the right shots.âÄù

Containing Spartan forward Lykendra Johnson, who currently leads the Big Ten in rebounding (9.1 per game), will be crucial for the Gophers. Johnson has averaged 13.7 points and 9.7 rebounds in six career games against Minnesota.

âÄúShe can go in and out with the ball. SheâÄôs got a little bit of a perimeter game. She can put the ball on the floor [and is a] great offensive rebounder,âÄù Borton told the station. âÄúSheâÄôs just big; sheâÄôs a big kid and really hard to handle because of her size.âÄù

This is the first game of the season between Minnesota and Michigan State. Last year, the Gophers dropped both games to the eventual champion Spartans.

Michigan State has won its last four matchups with Minnesota.