Gophers control own Big Ten Tournament destiny

With just four days remaining in the women’s basketball Big Ten schedule, the playoff picture is still muddy.

But Minnesota is able to clear a path for itself if the Gophers can just take care of business this weekend.

Minnesota, tied with Indiana and Michigan for fourth place in the conference, will play both the Hoosiers and the Wolverines, offering a chance to secure a top tournament seed.

The Gophers host Indiana tonight in a 7 p.m. game at Williams Arena, and travel to Michigan on Sunday to face the Wolverines at 1 p.m.

“We’re looking at this as if our destiny is in our own hands,” coach Pam Borton said. “We have complete control over it, so we’re going to give it all we’ve got.”

Minnesota (18-10 overall, 9-7 Big Ten) controls its own fate; a win over Michigan, regardless of how the rest of the weekend plays out, would give the Gophers at least a five seed.

Should the Gophers lose to Michigan, the Wolverines would then hold the tiebreaker in that scenario, while Indiana is already guaranteed an advantage over Minnesota in a tie. Only the top five teams receive first-round byes in the tournament.

Despite the potential importance of the Michigan game, combined with the fact that the Gophers have yet to face the Wolverines this season, Minnesota doesn’t seem to be worried.

“It’s a great opportunity for us. Michigan’s a great team, and they’ve surprised a lot of people, but we’re excited to play them,” junior guard Emily Fox said. “There might be a little more pressure, but I think we can handle it.”

After winning just three conference games all last season, Michigan has proven to be a legitimate competitor this year, showing off a balanced offensive attack.

The Wolverines (16-10, 9-7) have three players averaging between 10.2 and 10.8 points each night, and have had point contributions from all 14 roster members. With a recent 72-36 win over third-place Purdue, Michigan showed that it has the ability to overpower some of the best teams in the conference.

But before Minnesota can play Michigan, it will have to fight through Indiana, a team that is coming off a big win over Ohio State last week.

The Gophers lost to the Hoosiers in double overtime early in the season, but have an opportunity for revenge at home.

Indiana (16-12, 9-7) is another team with a lot of different scoring threats, as its three-guard system nicely complements two forwards who average 12 points apiece.

The Hoosiers’ starting five average 57.5 points per night, while the bench usually chips in around 10 points.

That, combined with the fact that Minnesota only had one player reach double digits in its last game, might cause some problems, but senior forward Leslie Knight said that the Gophers’ scoring trouble against Wisconsin was just an outlier of the big picture.

“You’re going to have a bad game, but it’s one game. You just have to move on from that,” she said.

“Thursday against Indiana is a chance for revenge, and we’re looking forward to it. We’ve lost our last two games, and we’re ready to get back on that winning track.”