Gophers open Big Ten tourney play tonight

Emily Wickstrom

Minnesota’s women’s basketball team may not know what opponent it faces today, but they do know it will be a team they have beaten twice this season.

The 20th-ranked Gophers (19-8, 11-5 Big Ten) will face the winner of Thursday’s Michigan vs. Indiana game in the second round of the Big Ten Tournament at about 7:30 p.m. at Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.

“This is a huge time for us to continue playing well, for us to start playing our best basketball of the season,” Minnesota coach Pam Borton said. “(The Big Ten Tournament) is just going to better our seed for the NCAA Tournament and hopefully make our path a little easier once we get there.”

Minnesota earned the third seed in the tournament and will await the winner of the No. 7 Hoosiers vs. No. 11 Wolverines match.

Indiana seems the more likely opponent, as Michigan was winless in its 16 Big Ten games.

The Gophers beat the Hoosiers at home last Thursday and on the road Jan. 9, but both games were decided by less than seven points.

“Sometimes it’s hard to beat a team three times,” Borton said after Sunday’s win over Northwestern.

Minnesota players said they hope to build on last year’s success in the Big Ten Tournament, when they reached the championship game before falling to Michigan State.

“Last year showed us we could win a Big Ten Tournament game, and it gave us a lot of confidence,” senior guard Shannon Bolden said. “Just knowing that we accomplished so much last year Ö gets us excited for this year and now we know what it takes.”

Borton indicated that she may go with her veteran players who can build off of last year’s experience, reducing the number of people in the rotation.

“Nothing replaces experience, and we might have to shorten our bench a little bit depending on how things go,” Borton said.

“It’s tough to play 11 kids; it’s tough to play nine kids Ö We need a lot of our experience on the floor.”

Experience will be crucial should the Gophers advance to the semifinals, where a match with second-seeded Purdue is likely.

The Boilermakers beat the Gophers twice this season, most recently by more than 30 points Feb. 12 in the middle of Minnesota’s four-game losing streak.

“Those teams I don’t think got a really good picture of how we know how to play,” junior forward Jamie Broback said. “Hopefully we will get our shot at them.”