Gophers have chance vs. IU

Aaron Kirscht

On its first road trip of the Big Ten season in early January, the Gophers women’s basketball team traveled to Indiana in search of a rare win. It nearly got one.
The Hoosiers took an early 23-9 lead and led by as many as 12 in the second half, but they had to survive a series of Minnesota rallies on the way to a narrow 67-61 victory.
That game still ranks as perhaps the Gophers’ best road performance of the season. When it hosts Indiana on Sunday, Minnesota will try to wrap up the home schedule with a similar effort.
“Our game has really improved dramatically since the last time we played Indiana,” Gophers coach Linda Hill-MacDonald said. “I think we should feel very confident about our chances of winning this game.”
That’s about as cocky as this team (3-20, 1-12 in the Big Ten) can get. But Hill-MacDonald said the situation was similar to that before the last home game, a win over Ohio State.
Now, she said, the Gophers match up well with their opponent. Aside from 6-foot-5 center Quacy Barnes, Minnesota and Indiana (13-10, 6-7) are very comparable. And having the home court advantage this time doesn’t hurt, either.
“When you look at the game we played (Jan. 3),” Hill-MacDonald said, “and the stats (of both teams), I think we’re very similar. We just have to go out and play the game we’re capable of playing.”
Barnes ranks fourth in the nation in blocked shots (averaging nearly four per game) and leads the Hoosiers with 14 points and six rebounds per game. Guard Tatjana Vesel is second on the team in scoring, averaging 13 points.
The Gophers are led by Angie Iverson, who has averaged more than 25 points in her last four outings. She also leads the nation in total rebounds. Mindy Hansen, despite a woeful weekend on the road, still ranks second with an 11-point average.
Vesel and Barnes paced the Hoosiers in the first meeting, combining for 30 points. Iverson and forward Sarah Klun led Minnesota with 21 and 16 points, respectively.
“(Barnes) gets in a lot of foul trouble,” Hill-MacDonald said. “We don’t have to double- or triple-team her. We just have to know what her tendencies are and take them away.”
But if and when the game goes sour inside, Indiana has no problem stepping behind the arc. They average more than 20 three-point attempts per game — second only to Northwestern. And though they hit for only 27 percent from the perimeter, the Hoosiers can get hot, as evidenced by their 59-54 upset of Wisconsin a week ago.
The Gophers will have had almost a week off before playing on Sunday, one of the longest breaks of the season. Hill-MacDonald said the rest has been good for her team, particularly after playing the conference’s two best teams last weekend.
“The timing is nice,” she said. “I’d rather have it now than later. Some of us needed a break.”
Ellis still hurting
Junior guard Jaime Ellis saw more minutes than usual against Michigan State and Illinois last weekend, leading to speculation that her stress fracture has improved.
Ellis played 20 minutes at Michigan State — her highest total in more than a month — and 18 at Illinois. But Hill-MacDonald said that won’t become a habit. Ellis’ playing time is still restricted.
“She may feel like she can go longer now,” Hill-MacDonald said, “but we can’t really stretch it.”
Forward Sonja Robinson (both legs) and center Angie Iverson (back) are still hampered with stress fractures.