Gophers prepare for Denver, then Big Ten schedule

Minnesota has two games left before the conference schedule begins.

Adam Richard

Fresh off a four-game homestand, MinnesotaâÄôs womenâÄôs basketball team will take its show on the road to face the Denver Pioneers on Wednesday.

The Gophers have won three games in a row behind solid guard play from Kiara Buford and Rachel Banham to improve their record to 7-5.

Denver has not lost a game at home this season and has a 7-3 record overall. The Pioneers are led by Kaetlyn Murdoch, who is averaging 16.5 points per game and most recently put up 21 points in a win against Oregon. 

âÄúTheyâÄôve got some really good three-point shooters and a really good post player that is the focal point of that team (Murdoch), and theyâÄôre playing at home,âÄù head coach Pam Borton said. âÄúSo we have to use this to our advantage and learn to win on the road.âÄù

The Gophers will face New Jersey Tech on Dec. 23 and then have a week off before playing at Purdue to begin the Big Ten season.

Minnesota had a 4-12 record in the Big Ten last season and began conference play with seven straight losses.

âÄúEach and every game that weâÄôve played has gotten us ready for some of the things weâÄôre going to see in the Big TenâÄù Borton said. âÄúWeâÄôve played six BCS teams in our schedule, so weâÄôve already played somewhat of a Big Ten schedule.âÄù

Borton said Banham is a key to the teamâÄôs ability to adjust to conference play. Banham has averaged 33 minutes and 13 points through 12 games. She was named Big Ten Freshman of the Week last week.

âÄúI donâÄôt know exactly what to expect,âÄù Banham said of the conference schedule. âÄúI watched [Big Ten opponents] when I was in high school. IâÄôm excited to play the girls IâÄôve seen on TV.âÄù 

MinnesotaâÄôs post players have improved as the season has progressed. Katie Loberg is averaging 10.6 points and 7.4 rebounds, and Kionna Kellogg recorded her first double-double of the season in SundayâÄôs victory against Alcorn State.

âÄúWe always expect more of ourselves,âÄù Kellogg said. âÄúItâÄôs always about improving, but itâÄôs nice to have some success.âÄù

The Gophers will only play one game over the next two weeks before Big Ten play begins.

Buford has been a steady force for the Gophers this season, leading the team in scoring, assists and steals. The senior guard was named tournament MVP this past weekend in the Gophers two victories and scored a game-high 25 points on 11-for-14 shooting against Harvard. 

âÄúI feel very confident with where we are,âÄù Buford said. âÄúOur shooting percentage is up. WeâÄôre getting back to playing team defense. The Big Ten is very competitive. I think we have a good opportunity in front of us.âÄù

Buford said the Gophers are more versatile this season with a scoring point guard like Banham and more experienced in the post, which should lead to more success in the conference.

Borton said that the difference going into the Big Ten schedule this season is having a point guard in Banham.

âÄúWe lost a lot of really close games last year by one or two possessions,âÄù Borton said. âÄúIn that situation you need to have the ball in the hands of somebody that wants to make plays. We have more talent on our team this year.âÄù