Gophers look to make first statement in Columbus

David McCoy

With all its success this season, there is one thing Minnesota’s women’s basketball team is still lacking as it heads into the final two weeks before the postseason.

A statement win.

The Gophers (19-5, 9-3 Big Ten) have maintained a consistent top-15 ranking, have a stranglehold on a first-round bye in the Big Ten Tournament and should be set to make some noise at the NCAA Tournament once again.

But No. 14 Minnesota still has yet to prove it can run with the major contenders in the Big Ten – much less the rest of the country.

The Gophers have not lost to a team behind them in the Big Ten standings. The problem, however, is that they have not beaten anybody above them either.

“We need to compete at that level,” coach Pam Borton said. “That’s the biggest thing. I think we need to prove to ourselves that we can compete against those teams.”

With a cupcake schedule (Wisconsin, Indiana and Northwestern) to round out the regular season, Minnesota’s last chance to get that statement win is tonight at No. 2 Ohio State (24-2, 11-1).

Once again, the guards will be key.

Coming off an appalling 0-for-17 effort from three-point land Feb. 10, Minnesota’s guards said they feel a new wave of confidence after contributing more than their fair share in a win over Purdue on Sunday.

“They have a lot more confidence in themselves that they can get the job done at both ends of the floor,” Borton said. “I’ve always had confidence in the guards, but it’s them having the confidence and knowing that they can get the job done on both ends of the floor.”

As far as stopping Buckeyes senior Caity Matter, who leads the Big Ten in three-point shooting at 47.1 percent, the Gophers are likely to sic stopper Shannon Bolden on her. Bolden has struggled lately but appears to have regained her form after throwing a blanket over All-Big Ten guard Katie Gearlds against Purdue.

And similar to Minnesota’s 20-point victory at Purdue on Jan. 13, which snapped a 20-year losing streak in West Lafayette, Ind., Minnesota said it is hoping for another such win tonight against Ohio State.

“We’re definitely going to come out with something to prove,” McCarville said. “I think we haven’t played up to our standard against the top teams in the conference. It’s a big game on the road, and we haven’t faired well on the road.”

It will be tough.

Minnesota, which lost three times to Ohio State last season, has not won in Columbus, Ohio, in 20 games.

The Buckeyes are also ranked fifth in the latest Ratings Percentage Index, which is one of the main instruments the NCAA selection committee uses to seed teams for the NCAA tournament.

So if Minnesota, ranked 14th in the latest RPI rankings, can manage to pull off the upset, it would be exactly the kind of statement win the Gophers are looking for.

“I think our whole team – we just want to prove that we can play a top-caliber team in the Big Ten and in the nation,” Bolden said.