Gophers head to Big Ten tourney to face Purdue

If Minnesota wins on Thursday, it will advance to play Ohio State.

by Matt Greenstein

After weeks of moving in the conference standings, Minnesota finally knows which team it will play in the Big Ten tournament Thursday: Purdue.

Purdue’s 58-56 victory against Wisconsin on Wednesday moved the Boilermakers into the next round against the Gophers.

Gophers head coach Marlene Stollings attended Wednesday’s contest, “scouting them heavily.”

Minnesota has already played the Boilermakers twice, beating them once and losing a close overtime game in the second matchup.

And this time around, Minnesota is looking for revenge.

The Gophers’ end goal is to win the Big Ten championship, and to do that, they’ll have to win against teams they’ve previously beaten.

“As a team, we understand that it’s not just a regular game,” forward Shae Kelley said.

The tournament is set up as a one-and-done format, so with a loss, the Gophers would be eliminated. But if Minnesota defeats Purdue on Thursday, it would match up with Ohio State in the next round.

The Gophers defeated Ohio State 76-72 in Columbus, Ohio, earlier in the season.

Kelley, a senior transfer, led the way for Minnesota in that game with 29 points.

The Big Ten tournament will be Kelley’s first and last — a thought the Gophers have in the back of their minds and are using as motivation.

“We want to play for [the seniors]. Just knowing that this could be their last time in the Big Ten tournament is huge for us to succeed and win for them,” freshman Carlie Wagner said.

Minnesota’s run in the Big Ten tournament will help determine its NCAA seeding.

 “We don’t want to sit on March 16 and wonder, ‘Are we in?’ We want to know that we’re in, and now we’re just waiting on seeding,” Stollings said.

However, most experts already believe the Gophers will be in.

In his latest post on ESPN.com, bracketologist Charlie Creme projected the Gophers as an eight seed in the Albany region.

Despite that projection, the Gophers aren’t relaxing before Thursday’s game.

“A lot of things are at stake, so we’re just going to come ready to play,” Kelley said.

The Gophers said they’ve hit the reset button on their season standings before the tournament, and as far as regular season records go, they’re now irrelevant.

Throughout the season, Stollings has praised her team’s resilience amid any situation. That mentality will be key in the Big Ten tournament’s deep field.

“No matter who we play, it’s going to be a tough matchup,” redshirt sophomore Amanda Zahui B. said. “Everybody is fighting for their lives.”

 

Betsy Helfand contributed to this report.