On the bubble, Gophers need to secure win to open Big Ten tournament

On Feb. 8 the Minnesota womenâÄôs basketball team defeated Iowa 64-58, riding a four-game win-streak and only one game out of first place in the Big Ten standings. But after that win over the Hawkeyes, the Gophers have lost four out of their last six, including a 61-50 loss to a lowly Illinois team on Sunday. MinnesotaâÄôs recent woes have diminished its 2009 Big Ten title dreams, sliding to fifth place in the conference standings at the end of the regular season. âÄúThat was a missed opportunity,âÄù Gophers coach Pam Borton said. âÄúSometimes you donâÄôt know what youâÄôre playing for until itâÄôs gone.âÄù Iowa, on the other hand, has won its last six games after its loss to the Gophers and has surpassed Minnesota in the conference standings with a fourth seed going into this weekendâÄôs Big Ten tournament. Both teams clinched a first-round bye with a top-five finish in the regular season and will face-off on Friday at 7:30 p.m. at Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. âÄúI think we were really disappointed in our play, but our team is ready to practice and ready to move on into the Big Ten tournament with confidence,âÄù junior center Ashley Ellis-Milan said. Iowa features three players who average double-figures in scoring, and another who averages 9.6 points per game. The Hawkeyes also lead the Big Ten in 3-point shooting percentage and are second in scoring, field-goal percentage and assists. âÄúTheyâÄôre the best offensive team in our conference,âÄù Borton said. âÄúTheyâÄôve got players who know what their roles are and get it done every game.âÄù The Gophers, on the other hand, have been up-and-down offensively this season and are in the middle of the pack in the conferenceâÄôs major offensive categories. One of the GophersâÄô main advantages this post-season is in the experience of their guards, as the starting guard tandem of junior Brittany McCoy and senior Emily Fox are No. 1 and 2 respectively in Big Ten assist/turnover ratio. âÄúI never realized how important experience is until now,âÄù Fox said. âÄúWeâÄôve been playing together so long so itâÄôs just a matter of getting consistent.âÄù While both the Gophers and Hawkeyes are obviously looking to win and make a run at the tournament championship, the winner of their game can only celebrate so long as on Saturday the 2009 Big Ten regular season champion Ohio State likely await the winner. The Buckeyes take on the winner of ThursdayâÄôs No. 8/9 game between Penn State and Illinois on Friday before MinnesotaâÄôs game against Iowa. Although the Buckeyes obtained a 15-3 conference record, the Gophers and Hawkeyes each claim one of the three blemishes to Ohio StateâÄôs Big Ten season. âÄúItâÄôs important to just focus on Iowa, but knowing that we already beat Ohio State gives us confidence,âÄù Fox said. Iowa is considered to be a lock for the NCAA tournament regardless of its Big Ten tournament play, but the Gophers future may be a bit more uncertain. The Big Ten is in line to get at least four teams in, but according to Mechelle Voepel of ESPN.com Minnesota might need to beat the Hawkeyes to secure its place in the NCAA tournament. âÄúItâÄôs a disappointing position to be in because if we would have taken care of business this past week we wouldnâÄôt have to be sweating it out now,âÄù McCoy said. The latest NCAA tournament brackets on ESPN.com predict the Gophers to be one of the last four teams selected, and as an 11 seed. âÄúOur backs are up against the wall because we have an NCAA tournament bid on the line,âÄù Borton said. WeâÄôve got to win some games to get there at this point.âÄù