U women

Jim Schortemeyer

The Minnesota women’s basketball team beat Northwestern 70-68 in mid-November. Since then, they’ve lost five games by an average of 18 points.
Despite the mounting losses, the Gophers (7-15 overall, 2-10 in the Big Ten) are the best team since the 1994-1995 squad finished only three games under .500.
The Gophers are thinking proactively for road games this weekend at Iowa and Penn State.
“It depends how we come out and play, not on anything they do,” senior Sonja Robinson said. “When we come out and just click, it’ll be awesome. It hasn’t happened yet.”
Friday’s game against Iowa wouldn’t be a bad time for Minnesota to click. The last time they met, the Gophers kept it close, losing 66-58.
Minnesota and Iowa are both running cold. The Hawkeyes (8-13, 4-8) recently broke a seven-game losing streak with a 73-69 win over Indiana, which is tied for last in the Big Ten with the Gophers.
Meanwhile, the news is out on how to beat Minnesota. Teams have used a trapping defense to slow the Gophers’ offense and cause massive amounts of turnovers — including 28 in their last game.
“We have to be able to handle pressure,” coach Cheryl Littlejohn said. “Trapping frustrates our guards. And when there’s 24 to 28 turnovers, that’s a lot to overcome in any conference.”
If any team is a cinch to beat Minnesota, Penn State (18-5, 10-3) seems like a viable candidate. The No. 15 Lions are second in the Big Ten behind Purdue, and have won its last six games.
The Lions already own a 29-point win over the Gophers, but Littlejohn is quick to point out that Minnesota trailed by only five points at halftime. Littlejohn seems frustrated by her team’s inconsistent efforts against Iowa and Penn State.
“We can look back and see that we need 40 minutes of effort,” Littlejohn said. “We played well for stretches in those games but we need to put it together.”
But unlike the last time they played, the Gophers have very few things going for them. Teams have figured out how to shut down the Minnesota offense — the Gophers have committed 20 turnovers in four of their last five games and haven’t scored 70 points since they beat Northwestern.
On the upside, players key to future teams are playing well. Freshman guard Jackie Tate has been scoring off the bench and playing tough defense and junior Antoinetta Blevins is emerging as Minnesota’s first viable threat at the point guard.
“We’re rebuilding from the ground up,” Littlejohn said.
Robinson, the only senior starter, remains a constant for the Gophers, leading the team in points and rebounds.
But Robinson alone can’t carry the team to a win this weekend.
“We at least want to end the season on a good note,” Blevins said.
A win could pull the Gophers out of last place for the first time since that 1994-95 team, but they have very little chance of finishing any higher than tenth.
So, to avoid a fourth-consecutive last-place finish, Minnesota has focused on overcoming its problems with the trap. Though they struggled early in the week, the offense has slowly figured out how to score.
Robinson punctuated the end of practice Wednesday by dribbling coast-to-coast for a layup.
“We have to get it together now,” Robinson said. “There’s no time left.”