Season opener not going to be an easy one for the Gophers

Junior guard Katie Ohm dribbles around an opponent in one of Minnesota's two exhibition games at Williams Arena this year. The Gophers will head to the West Coast for a pair of games this weekend including its season opener against No. 2 Stanford.

Jules Ameel

Junior guard Katie Ohm dribbles around an opponent in one of Minnesota’s two exhibition games at Williams Arena this year. The Gophers will head to the West Coast for a pair of games this weekend including its season opener against No. 2 Stanford.

With a pair of exhibition games under its belt, the Minnesota womenâÄôs basketball team and its talented freshmen class hope to be ready for the regular season. Ready or not, the regular season is ready for the Gophers, and Minnesota might see its toughest test of the season in its opening game, as the Gophers square off against No. 2 Stanford. âÄúThis will be great for our freshmen,âÄù junior forward Ashley Ellis-Milan said. âÄúItâÄôs going to be like, âÄòHello, and welcome to college basketball.âÄô âÄú Minnesota plays at Stanford on Friday at 9 p.m. and will also travel to face Santa Clara on Sunday at 4 p.m. âÄúWeâÄôre very excited to open up this weekend,âÄù coach Pam Borton said. âÄúWeâÄôre going into every game, and our motto this year is âÄòexpect to win.âÄô WeâÄôre going to play like that, and weâÄôre going to prepare like that.âÄù Compared to the two Minnesota teams the Gophers saw in exhibition play, Stanford will look a little different, as the Cardinal brings a lot more height, depth and athleticism to the floor than MinnesotaâÄôs earlier opponents. âÄúSize-wise, I think Stanford is very much like a Big Ten team with their post players,âÄù Borton said. âÄúAs far as size goes, we face that every Thursday and Sunday in the Big Ten. TheyâÄôve got a little more depth than we do as far as size, but I think we match up well with their guards.âÄù Junior forward Jayne Appel, a first-team All-Pac-10 selection last year, averaged 15 points per game for the Cardinal , while averaging 8.8 rebounds as well. Sophomore forward Kayla Pedersen also averaged double-digit points, putting up 12.6 points and 8.4 rebounds per game. But Stanford lost its best scorer from last year to graduation, as guard Candice Wiggins graduated after giving the Cardinal 20 points per game last season. âÄúTheyâÄôre a lot different team than they were last year, just with the loss of Wiggins,âÄù junior guard Brittany McCoy said. âÄúI think theyâÄôre still trying figure out where the pieces are going to fall for their team. WeâÄôre not going to have to play perfectly to win. We just have to play some defense and make some of the shots that havenâÄôt been falling for us in the exhibition games, and weâÄôll be fine.âÄù One advantage the Gophers have over last yearâÄôs Minnesota team is depth, as freshmen Jackie Voigt, Brianna Mastey and Kiara Buford have all shown that they are ready to make an impact on the court. And with the more open, four-out offense, scoring options have opened up for more players as well, which can only help MinnesotaâÄôs offensive numbers this season. âÄúI love it,âÄù Ellis-Milan said of the new offensive structure. âÄúItâÄôs great for our guards too, because it opens up the floor for them, and we have people that can shoot the ball this year.âÄù Right now, McCoy said MinnesotaâÄôs main focus is that first game at Stanford. But with Santa Clara scheduled for Sunday, the Gophers will have to pay some attention to the Broncos. With their three top scorers from last year gone, the Broncos will look to senior guard tandem Elizabeth Doran and Sara Majors to control the offense. Doran averaged 9.9 points per game for Santa Clara last season, while Majors added 8.3. The Broncos will play at Cal State Fullerton on Friday before hosting the Gophers on Sunday.