Minnesota looking to use scoring depth to sink New Mexico at hostile Pit

Emily Wickstrom

Two days after returning from the U.S. Virgin Islands, Minnesota’s women’s basketball time had little time to rest.

The 10th-ranked Gophers got right back on a plane to Albuquerque, N.M., to face No. 21 New Mexico at 8 p.m. Wednesday at University Arena.

And while Minnesota blew out the Lobos 75-35 last season at Williams Arena, this game should be a different story without the comfort of the Gophers’ home fans.

University Arena drew the fourth-largest attendance per game in the nation last season, averaging 11,865.

Senior guard April Calhoun compared playing in University Arena to Williams Arena, which averaged 9,703 a game last season.

“It’s to our advantage that we’ve played in that kind of atmosphere,” Calhoun said. “But then again, we’ve never actually played when that many fans are yelling against us.”

Minnesota coach Pam Borton said: “It’s probably one of the most difficult places in the country to play.”

Regardless of the fans’ hostility at University Arena, Minnesota will face its toughest test so far this season.

It is the Gophers’ first real road game of the season; the games at the U.S. Virgin Islands were at a neutral site.

“It’s only going to prepare us for those Big Ten road games when we’re playing in front of 10,000 to 12,000 people,” Borton said.

Like Minnesota, the Lobos have a bench that goes about nine players deep.

New Mexico’s most dangerous player is sophomore forward Dionne Marsh, who averages 16.5 points per game.

But the Gophers have plenty to counter with.

Minnesota now has six players who average at least 8.5 points per game, led by frontcourt-mates Natasha Williams and Jamie Broback.

Broback proved she is back at full strength from her leave of absence by averaging 15.5 points per game and being named most valuable player of the Paradise Jam tournament.

“(Broback) stepped up for us in some big situations,” senior guard Shannon Schonrock said. “It was good to see her back, finally.”

For now, Broback will still come off the bench, leaving Minnesota with possibly the best bench player in the nation.

“I think it’s an advantage to have any one of our post players coming off the bench,” Borton said. “That’s a psych-out for an opponent when you’ve got four post players that can start on any other team in the country coming off the bench.”

Calhoun to start again

Borton announced Tuesday that Calhoun will rejoin the Gophers starting lineup against New Mexico.

Calhoun, who started last season, was replaced by junior Kelly Roysland after a foot injury held her out of Minnesota’s exhibition games.

“(Calhoun) brings many, many things to our team,” Borton said. “But I think the No. 1 thing we need to have on her floor is her toughness and her mentality on the floor. It’s contagious to everyone else.”