Weekend games no break for Gophers

Aaron Kirscht

After playing Penn State tonight, the Gophers women’s basketball team will head to the Poconos for a little rest and relaxation.
Just kidding.
The Gophers, losers of 29 straight Big Ten games, could probably use a vacation. But instead of traveling to the popular Pennsylvania resort, they’ll leave for Madison, Wisc., to take on No. 16 Wisconsin on Sunday.
Minnesota’s toughest road trip of the season will provide a first look at two of the Big Ten’s best: Penn State forward Angie Potthoff and Wisconsin guard Keisha Anderson.
For Penn State, Potthoff hasn’t been enough. The Lions stand at 9-7 overall, 2-4 in the Big Ten, following a narrow 61-60 win over Iowa on Tuesday. That’s below par for the Lions, who are coming off three straight 25-win seasons and have won the conference tournament the last two years.
But Gophers coach Linda Hill-MacDonald isn’t lamenting Penn State’s woes.
“I’d like to have their record,” she said. “I don’t take anything for granted. They had such a tough nonconference schedule and some injuries at the beginning of the Big Ten season.
“They’re a little less experienced, but I wouldn’t say they’re down.”
Potthoff — last week’s Big Ten Player of the Week — is good for 19 points per game, but no other Lions player averages more than nine per game.
Hill-MacDonald says that’s because the Penn State offense runs through Potthoff.
“She’s probably touching the ball 90 percent of the time,” Hill-MacDonald said. “(Potthoff is) a great player, and they’re using her very effectively.”
Although Penn State’s strengths are mostly inside, they have no problem with putting up a few shots from behind the arc. Guards Tara Macciocco — who exploded for 21 points against Iowa — and Tiffany Longworth can get comfortable from 3-point range.
Minnesota will be hard-pressed to improve on a pair of double-digit losses to Penn State last season. But in Wisconsin (12-3, 5-2), the Gophers will face a team that beat them by 34 and 35 points in two games a year ago.
When Wisconsin guard Katie Voight went down with a torn anterior cruciate ligament, the Badgers lost their two leading scorers, having already lost Barb Franke to graduation (20 points per game).
Wisconsin coach Jane Albright-Dieterle said before the season that her team’s chances of contending for a Big Ten title may not be realistic, and that her team may have a difficult time scoring.
Enter point guard Keisha Anderson and forward Ann Klapperich, who combine for nearly 40 points per game. As a team, the Badgers average 78 points per game, less than a point off of last year’s pace.
Anderson has emerged as one of the nation’s best playmakers.
“Keisha’s so doggone explosive,” Hill-MacDonald said. “She’s got great quickness, great hands. And she hasn’t been their high scorer in the past, but she’s really picked up her scoring this season.”
The senior is a classic drive-and-dish point guard, and is already UW’s all-time assist leader. Anderson also leads the Big Ten in steals.
“We’ll just try to contain her,” Hill-MacDonald said. “You can’t take the ball away from her. The moment you step up and try to steal the ball she’s by you.”
The Badgers will provide Minnesota with its hardest test of the season. But for Gophers freshman Kiauna Burns, who’s just picking up the point guard position, watching Anderson work the floor could be a valuable experience.
“I think it’ll be good for Kiauna to see,” Hill-MacDonald said. “(Anderson) is a senior, an experienced point guard. That’s who we want (Burns) to be.”
A win over the Badgers would be one of the biggest in Hill-MacDonald’s tenure, and could chase away some of the demons that accompany a long losing streak. And then there’s the ever-present border battle to keep in mind.
“I think they have an attitude about us, and we have an attitude about them,” Hill-MacDonald said. “It’s a game you always want to win.”
And a Big Ten win, the coach would likely agree, beats a trip to the Poconos anytime.