Big Ten season just one game away

by Paul Cordes

The Minnesota women’s basketball team has a week of practice and one final nonconference game to prepare for Big Ten play.

The Gophers are in the middle of a 13-day break from competition, but after North Dakota State on Dec. 22, league play begins and the pressure is on.

Minnesota is picked to finish eighth by the media this year and after just over a month of games, the Gophers are seventh with a .727 winning percentage.

Sophomore guard Emily Fox said no conference game is going to be easy and the team has some things to work on.

“Everyone brings their best for Big Ten games,” she said. “So we’ll take this time right now to really prepare, get ready and become a tougher team.”

Fox said Minnesota is working hard in two areas that she thinks will be crucial to success in the league: defense and rebounding.

The Gophers (8-3 overall, 0-0 Big Ten) have done a good job so far in both categories. Minnesota has held its opponents to under 63 points per game, while it is averaging over 70, and the Gophers have been out-rebounded just twice this season, in losses to Iowa State and Wisconsin-Green Bay.

“We’ve learned we have to do to win,” she said. “The games that we’ve lost we got out-rebounded in, so I think that’s our point of emphasis right now.”

Minnesota officially opens conference play against Iowa Dec. 28 and coach Pam Borton is very optimistic about her team’s chances to succeed.

“We have to just continue to get better,” she said. “I think if we keep heading in the right direction like we are, we should be fine.”

Ohio State dominant

Even after a close loss to No. 9 Louisiana State, the Ohio State women’s basketball team is still a favorite in the Big Ten.

The Buckeyes (7-1, 0-0) were dominant up until their loss Sunday to the Tigers.

Ohio State leads the Big Ten in scoring and its 49.4 percent field goal percentage also tops in the conference.

Coach Jim Foster said he is about where he thought his team would be right now.

“We’ve played five teams that were in the NCAA Tournament last year,” he said. “We have an idea of what it takes to win.”

And, literally, the largest reason for the Buckeyes’ success is 6-foot-5-inch senior center Jessica Davenport.

Davenport’s 20.5 points per game and 70.5 percent shooting put her atop the Big Ten with no one even close to being in striking distance.

She was the Preseason Big Ten Player of the Year and also was named a preseason candidate for the Naismith Trophy, which is the most prestigious award given to the top male and female college basketball players.

Foster said Davenport doesn’t get that many touches per game, but the ones she does get, she makes the most out of.

“I think she’s been very efficient,” he said. “Obviously, other teams work very diligently to keep the ball out of her hands, but we’ve been patient enough to find her – not as often as we’d like to – but when she’s in a good position to score.”

Big Ten best since 1998

The Big Ten women’s basketball season officially opens on Dec. 28, but the race is already on.

The conference is expected to be as tough as ever, and, right now, Big Ten teams are off to their best start since the 1998-1999 season.

With a combined record of 73-29, all 11 teams are at or above the .500 mark, which is the furthest into a season the conference has stayed above that mark since Dec. 27, 1998.

“It’s a much-improved Big Ten conference, from top to bottom,” Borton said. “There are usually some teams in the basement of the conference, but that’s not the case this year.”