Battling for Big Ten title, Gophers to do battle with Buckeyes

SDSU Basketball vs. Gophers

SDSU 65 Gophers 55

Matt Mead

SDSU Basketball vs. Gophers SDSU 65 Gophers 55

Before its last match-up with Ohio State on Jan. 15, University of Minnesota junior guard Brittany McCoy said the Gophers womenâÄôs basketball team had nothing to lose against the team they had lost 24-straight times to on the road. The Gophers left Columbus, Ohio that night with a 59-56 win over the then-No. 13 team in the nation, handing the Buckeyes their first conference loss of the season. âÄúWe knew that we were going to be the only people there that believed we could actually win the game,âÄù McCoy said. âÄúWe were obviously the underdog, but thatâÄôs a great position to be in sometimes.âÄù With four games to play until the Big Ten tournament and both teams vying for the conference title , Minnesota hosts No. 17 Ohio State on Thursday night for the rematch, with more believers on the Gophers side and much more at stake. The Buckeyes (11-3 Big Ten) are one of three teams ahead of the Gophers in the conference standings, the others being Michigan State (11-3) and Purdue (11-4). Minnesota currently sits at 10-4 in the Big Ten and has already beaten each of the last four teams it plays. Illinois and Northwestern are ranked No. 9 and No. 11, respectively, in the conference standings , and Minnesota played extremely well against the Spartans in the GophersâÄô 60-44 win on Feb. 2. But the first task ahead is Ohio State, led by dominating post-presence and 2008 Big Ten Player of the Year Jantel Lavender. The Buckeyes sophomore sensation leads the conference in many statistical categories, including: points per game at 21.2, rebounding at 10.8 and field-goal percentage at 53.4. âÄúLavender is absolutely unbelievable,âÄù Borton said of the 6-foot-4-inch center. Minnesota junior forward Ashley Ellis-Milan had possibly the finest game of her collegiate career against Ohio State, leading the Gophers with 17 points, seven rebounds and handling the tough duty of matching up with Lavender. Ellis-Milan also hit three clutch free throws in the final 17 seconds to secure the win over the Buckeyes. Lavender still scored a game-high 20 points, but was limited to just six shots and no offensive rebounds. âÄúSheâÄôs very strong,âÄù Ellis-Milan said of Lavender. âÄúI just try to give it all IâÄôve got out there and try my best to shove her out of the paint.âÄù McCoy attributes LavenderâÄôs lack of shot attempts in the post to Ellis-Milan and junior center Zoe Harper playing extremely physically and MinnesotaâÄôs guards digging down on the star center each time she touches the ball. âÄúWeâÄôre just going to focus on digging it out of the post and making the perimeter players beat us,âÄù McCoy said. âÄúObviously, Lavender is a great player, and we donâÄôt want to leave Ashley or Zoe one-on-one with her inside.âÄù Out-rebounding Ohio State was another key to MinnesotaâÄôs road win, beating the Buckeyes 34-21 in that category and also going 15-0 on second-chance points. âÄúWe out-rebounded them in their house, and theyâÄôre going to try and bring it here,âÄù Ellis-Milan said. âÄúOur rebounding is going to be the key to the game.âÄù The Gophers have been trying to emulate the same type of hectic atmosphere for Lavender in practice this week. âÄúJantel is really good, and she has gotten even better since we saw her last,âÄù Ellis-Milan said. âÄúBut weâÄôre going in there with the same mindset that we did last time.âÄù