Slate is cleared for U women’s hoops

Aaron Kirscht

The Gophers women’s basketball team will likely be pushed aside during the hubbub surrounding its male Big Ten-champion counterparts. It has been that way for the last two years, as the team has floundered to a combined 1-32 record in conference play.
Still, a win today in the first round of the Big Ten tournament against Wisconsin (16-10 overall, 8-8) would make some noise. It’s not that the Gophers are gunning for a NCAA tournament bid because that’s unrealistic. They’d have to win four straight against Big Ten competition, something the team hasn’t done since 1993. But for a team that’s been so far down for so long, any victory is a huge victory.
As for the likelihood of such a win, one can always hope.
“I think we’re in a pretty decent bracket,” coach Linda Hill-MacDonald said. “This certainly could be a good time to get Wisconsin. They’re not playing that well, and we’ll have them on a neutral court.”
The Badgers opened the season on a tear, winning seven straight. But the rigors of the Big Ten season and perhaps the late-season match-up with defending NCAA champ Tennessee, got the better of them. Wisconsin lost seven of its last nine games, including a season-ending loss to Penn State to tie the Lions for sixth place.
Although Hill-MacDonald said playing border teams like Iowa and Wisconsin brings out the best in her players, the final scores haven’t shown it. Wisconsin beat the Gophers by 27 on Jan. 26 in Madison, Wisc., and Minnesota ended the regular season with a 36-point loss last weekend to Iowa.
Turnovers and poor rebounding killed the Gophers in their first meeting with Wisconsin. Thirty-one of the Badgers’ 52 rebounds came off the offensive glass as Minnesota could manage only 32 rebounds, eight offensive. The Gophers also had twice as many turnovers (30 to the Badgers’ 15).
Amy Wiersma and Ann Klapperich led Wisconsin with 17 points apiece, but Wiersma’s performance was the most notable. Every one of her nine rebounds seemed to come at the most opportune times and enabled her to reach a career scoring high.
“But I’ve seen her on film since, taking the same shots she made against us and missing them,” Hill-MacDonald said. “It was just her day. Everybody experiences one of those days once in a while. We just have to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
The Gophers are extreme underdogs, but this is the conference tournament, and team records are all even-up at 0-0.
“Everything’s wiped out,” Hill-MacDonald said. “What’s happened up to this point means nothing. It’s anybody’s tournament, really.”