Defense primed for road stretch

Aaron Blake

After her team’s frustrating 90-75 loss to the Gophers on Sunday at Williams Arena, Purdue women’s basketball coach Kristy Curry offered a poignant evaluation of rookie Minnesota coach Pam Borton’s defense.

“There’s nothing there defensively that we haven’t seen,” Curry said. “They’re just going to try to outscore you, not out-guard you.”

While Curry insisted the comment was not taking anything away from the 10th-ranked Gophers, Borton dismissed Curry’s analysis.

Despite the 75 points allowed, Borton emphasizes the 14 steals her team posted among the 24 turnovers Purdue committed.

“Any coach that loses a big game like (Curry) might not see the whole picture,” Borton said. “They couldn’t run their offense in the half court. Any coach could watch the film and figure that out.

“We just need to worry about ourselves and not worry about proving anything to anybody.”

Thursday’s game at Michigan State (9-7, 2-3 Big Ten), gives the Gophers something to worry about this week. Despite their mediocre record, the Spartans have played the competition tough in every game.

They gave 15th-ranked Penn State a scare on its home court Sunday, losing 75-70, and also have a victory over Purdue to their credit.

Overall, Michigan State has not lost by more than six points in any of its seven defeats, including a 64-61 loss at then-No. 20 Georgia.

Thursday’s game begins a span in which the Gophers play five out of six games on the road, after four of their first five were at home.

“(Winning on the road) is a mentality,” Borton said. “That’s something I want to get through to my players.

“We’ve been on the road for eight of our 11 nonconference games, and I hope we can look back on that as something positive.”

She must teach this road mentality to her team just as she has taught the players her defensive mentality. Despite playing a majority of road games during nonconference play, none of the opponents were Big Ten-caliber competition.

Borton said the defensive mentality was absent in her team’s sole loss of the season, an 83-53 drubbing at Penn State. But after her team’s best win of its 15-1 season over the Boilermakers, the team’s confidence in its defense has been revived.

They have their reasons.

Rebounding from a year in which they finished last in Big Ten scoring defense at 71.7 points per game, Borton’s squad leads the Big Ten in steals per game (12.12) and is second in turnovers forced (20.8).

To go along with their nationally first-ranked offense (85.3 PPG), the Gophers have allowed only 65.9 points per game, which puts them in the middle of the pack of the Big Ten.

“These players are thriving in this system defensively,” Borton said. “Those steals and turnovers translate into fast-break points.

“The more aggressive we are defensively, the more aggressive we are offensively. I think it’s taken them a while to learn that.”

And Curry still has yet to accept such lessons.

Aaron Blake covers women’s basketball and welcomes comments at [email protected]