It’s amazing what two wins can do for a basketball team.
“We feel better about what we’re doing,” Minnesota women’s basketball senior Lindsay Whalen said. “We are looking forward to Sunday.”
That’s when the 13th-ranked Gophers will play host to No. 5 Penn State at Williams Arena.
The Big Ten leading Lions beat the Gophers (17-3, 6-3 Big Ten) 75-56 in State College, Pa., on Jan. 22. But after two consecutive wins against Indiana and Wisconsin, the Gophers feel confident as the Lions come to town.
Minnesota coach Pam Borton also felt her team gave a good effort in the first meeting against the Lions.
“I thought the score didn’t indicate what kind of a game it was,” Borton said.
The Gophers played the Lions even through halftime, but an early second-half run buried Minnesota in an inescapable hole.
“(State College) is a tough place to play,” Borton said. “When you have 7,000 to 10,000 fans it is an intimidating place for anyone.”
The tables will turn Sunday when the Penn State players will be exposed to an expected 14,000 fans on hand at Williams Arena.
The Gophers will look to exploit their home court advantage in The Barn, where they have only lost twice in two and a half years.
“I pencil in all our home games as wins,” Borton said. “You should win at home.”
Borton said the Gophers’ Jan. 25 loss to Michigan State at Williams Arena was one the team should have won.
The Spartans broke Minnesota’s 19-game home winning streak with the victory.
“They played a perfect game,” Borton said. “You are always going to have those games you look back on and say ‘we should have won that one.’ “
Borton and the Gophers hope they don’t add another game to that list Sunday.
Penn State is 9-0 in the Big Ten and would be hard to derail from a second straight conference title if they beat the Gophers on Sunday. But Minnesota knows it is possible.
Last season the Gophers beat then-No. 12 Penn State 73-57 in Williams Arena and kept the Lions from clinching the Big Ten title outright.
“We got thumped there pretty good last year,” Penn State coach Rene Portland said. “The crowd and the team were all fired up.”
The commanding victory was significant for the Gophers and propelled them into the postseason where they eventually reached the NCAA Sweet 16.
This season, the game could be just as important for the Gophers.
Borton said the key to the game for her team will be getting a better effort from their bench – all three of whom are freshmen.
“We got nothing from them last time (against Penn State),” Borton said. “We expect our freshmen not to play like freshmen.”
Whalen said the young players just need to have more confidence this time around.
“We need them to be effective and confident with the ball,” she said.
Whalen said the Gophers are not thinking about avenging their first loss to the Lions – but that would be welcomed.
“We can’t worry about redemption,” she said. “We just want to focus on our playing and win.”