Tough nonconference schedule continues vs. Virginia

The Gophers will host the Cavaliers before playing at Kansas on Sunday.

Minnesota guard/forward Kayla Hirt shoots a layup against Maine on Nov. 18 at Williams Arena.

Image by Emily Dunker

Minnesota guard/forward Kayla Hirt shoots a layup against Maine on Nov. 18 at Williams Arena.

by Samuel Gordon

After the men’s win Tuesday, the Gophers women’s basketball team gets its shot against an Atlantic Coast Conference school Thursday as part of the annual Big Ten/ACC Challenge.

The Gophers (6-1) will try to stay undefeated at home when they face Virginia (4-1).

Minnesota suffered its first loss last Thursday against Richmond in the first of a trio of games in the Cancun Challenge. But it bounced back to beat James Madison and Missouri.

Point guard Rachel Banham said Tuesday that the loss was a great learning experience for the Gophers.

“It felt weird. … I didn’t know what to think at first,” she said. “We’re going to have some losses, and we have to learn from it.”

Banham said she was satisfied with the way her team rebounded after the loss — literally and figuratively.

Richmond outrebounded the Gophers 43-34, but Minnesota outrebounded its next two opponents in victories. The Gophers are 6-0 when they snag more boards than their opponent.

“We finished off those last two teams really strong,” Banham said. “A lot of us played really well and hit really crucial shots. People played to their roles.”

Head coach Pam Borton said her squad was fortunate to win two of three games in Cancun.

“I learned we can really bounce back, and we can play well on the road,” she said.

Minnesota’s first game back at Williams Arena should be a competitive one. The Cavaliers most recently lost a 74-73 nailbiter to Syracuse in Puerto Rico. In that same trip to Puerto Rico, the Orange upset No. 17 Vanderbilt.

Borton said Virginia plays a lot of zone defense, which the Gophers haven’t seen much this season.

The Cavaliers are led by Sarah Imovbioh, a 6-foot-2-inch forward who scores 15 points per game. She leads Virginia in rebounding, too, with 7.8 per game.

Guards Ataira Franklin and Kelsey Wolfe can also score, with 12.0 and 10.8 points per game, respectively.

While Virginia may be the Gophers’ toughest opponent yet, Borton said the team has already faced a challenging schedule.

“We’ve seen different styles every single game that we played,” she said. “We’re very fortunate to be 6-1 with this schedule.”

Minnesota has another tough test Sunday when it travels to Lawrence, Kan., for a date with the No. 20 Jayhawks.

Kansas (5-0) was a Sweet 16 team last season, and forward Carolyn Davis (18.0 points per game) is a stud. Davis was first-team All-Big 12 and an honorable mention All-American last season.

But Minnesota is focused on Virginia first.

“This one, we’re definitely a little more excited,” Banham said. “It’s an ACC team. They’re a good team. It’s fun, and we’re back at home.”


—Nickalas Tabbert contributed to this report.