Gophers have two games left to earn a bye in Big Ten tournament

Minnesota has lost five of its last six games dating back to Jan. 28.

by Paul Cordes

The final week of regular-season play has arrived for the Minnesota women’s basketball team, and the last two games of the year are going to be crucial for the Gophers.

Minnesota (14-13 overall, 6-8 Big Ten) is one of six teams vying for the two available first-round byes in the Big Ten tournament.

The Gophers begin their quest for one of those byes tonight against Michigan at 7 at Williams Arena.

Byes are awarded to the top-five finishers in the conference and, so far, only Ohio State, Purdue and Michigan State have been given the pass to the quarterfinals.

Tonight’s game against Michigan becomes all the more important with No. 20 Michigan State awaiting Minnesota for its final game of the season this Sunday.

Coach Pam Borton said a win tonight is important.

“Every game we have left during the season is an important game for us,” she said. “It’s our last Big Ten game at home this year, and I know our kids are looking to close out our home stand here on a positive note.”

If the Gophers have any dreams of an NCAA tournament bid, finishing the season on a positive note might not be enough.

Michigan (10-17, 3-11) is one of two teams in the conference with no hopes of a first-round bye in the Big Ten tournament as the Wolverines are in 10th place in the league.

Minnesota sophomore guard Emily Fox said a win against Michigan will give the Gophers the confidence they need to take on a Michigan State team that is coming off a big win over No. 5 Ohio State.

“I think just confidence wise and getting some momentum makes it important for us to win this game,” Fox said.

With no Sunday game last week, Minnesota has the advantage of a few extra days rest and some extra time to prepare for the Wolverines.

And after losing four of their last five games, the Gophers welcomed a break before the final push.

“(The break) was a great opportunity for everybody to kind of take a deep breath and go into the end of the season here very strong,” Fox said. “Our players that are playing a lot of minutes needed a break mentally and physically in able for us to make the stretch.”

To do well down this last stretch though, Minnesota will need to be more than just well rested.

The Gophers’ inability to put a complete game together every time it sets foot on the floor has cost them some close games.

Inconsistency in the post has put added pressure on the guards, so Minnesota will need a balanced scoring attack to alleviate some of that pressure.

Junior guard Jordan Barnes said it’s a matter of confidence for the Gophers.

“We have to rebound and execute when it’s most important,” she said. “We have to play with confidence to hopefully give us a couple wins this week.”

Minnesota started the season with almost no experience on its roster, but now Borton said she feels like her team has improved is ready for the final stretch.

“We feel like were just almost over the hump and that we’re almost there,” she said. “I feel like we have a basketball team that is really, really close to getting over the hump and right now is the time to get it done.”