Gophers host Wisconsin in must-win Big Ten game

Minnesota held Wisconsin to under 50 points when the teams met 12 days ago, but the Gophers somehow still lost after scoring a season-low 42 points.

Jesse Mandell-McClinton

For the Gophers womenâÄôs basketball team, itâÄôd be nice if the new semester came with a fresh start to their Big Ten season.

As it stands, Minnesota (8-10 overall, 0-5 Big Ten) is in the midst of a five-game slide, and will be looking for just their third conference win in over a year when Wisconsin comes to town on Thursday.

After a grueling 47-42 loss on January 9th, the Gophers will try to split the season series with the Badgers in the second meeting between the teams in 12 days.

Gophers head coach Pam Borton said a big reason for the teamâÄôs struggles thus far is their inexperience with playing as a team. Many of the players are filling new roles for the first time.

âÄúWe could easily be 4-1,âÄù Borton said of the teamâÄôs Big Ten schedule. âÄúWeâÄôve lost four close games.âÄù

Those loses, their last four conference games, came by an average of four points.  While the close margins could have discouraged the team, Borton said she is happy with the GophersâÄô morale and leadership.

Borton also said that Minnesota will need contributions from their more experienced players to land in the win column against Wisconsin.

 In their last meeting, senior guard China Antoine was held scoreless on 0-5 shooting, and the team as a whole was held under 30 percent shooting from the field. Junior guard Kiara Buford was the only player to hit more than two field goals and scored 17 points, but was also one of three different Gophers to turn the ball over four times.

A win would keep Minnesota from going 0-6 in the conference for the first time in 11 years, and also be a good energy boost as the team heads out to face conference leader Michigan State this Sunday.

Wisconsin (9-9, 4-2) comes to Williams Arena with some road woes after dropping their last two away games by a combined 35 points. It will be the Badgers first trip back to Minneapolis since they narrowly beat the Gophers 76-74 in double-overtime last February.

Wisconsin is currently third in the Big Ten standings. Despite a slow start to the season and a .500 overall record, the Badgers have won six of their last nine games

The Gophers will have to keep an eye on senior forward Lin Zastrow, who is second in the Big Ten in field goal percentage and top-20 in PPG, blocks and rebounding.

Zastrow dropped 21 points on Minnesota in their last meeting to go along with three blocks. Stopping her should be a priority for Minnesota, as Wisconsin is 5-2 when she leads her team in scoring, but 5-7 when she doesnâÄôt.

Coach Borton was happy with the GophersâÄô defensive effort the last time the teams met, when they held Wisconsin under 50 points for the first time since 2005. As for the Gophers season-low 42 points, she remains confident that MinnesotaâÄôs offense will find a groove in the second half of the season as players become more comfortable in their new roles.

For the slumping Gophers, this game looks like a must-win. Beating a conference rival at home would do wonders for the teamâÄôs confidence and help give the team some momentum heading down the stretch.

The game tips-off at 7:30 p.m. Thursday night, and will be broadcast on the Big Ten Network.