Women’s hoops set to face Stanford

by Aaron Blake

JSTANFORD, Calif. Just as Williams Arena has a one-of-a-kind quirk to it – its elevated playing surface – Maples Pavilion on the campus of Stanford University has one as well.

“It was springy,” All-American Lindsay Whalen said before Saturday’s 68-48 win over Tulane in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. “We had a bit of fun jumping around at the beginning. The court gives a little bit when you jump.”

The wooden trampoline combined with the home-town crowd will be sixth-seeded Minnesota women’s basketball team’s main obstacles when it faces third-seeded Stanford (27-4) tonight in the second round of the tournament.

After needing the first half to adjust to the confines against the Green Wave on Saturday, the Gophers offense kicked in and the defense held fast in the final 20 minutes.

Shutting down Tulane’s offense – and more importantly its post players – is a feat that must be duplicated against the Cardinal on Monday.

Forward Nicole Powell, 6-foot-2, and 6-foot-3 center Chelsea Trotter both turned in stellar performances for Stanford in an 82-66 victory over 14-seed Western Michigan in the first round.

Gophers coach Pam Borton would like to see another defensive performance like the one that held Tulane’s all-conference post players – Teana McKiver and Gwen Slaughter – to a combined 15 points, 11 rebounds and one assist.

“Our post players did one of the best defensive jobs they’ve done all year,” Borton said. “They played post defense and boxed out extremely well. I challenged them before the game because Slaughter and McKiver are two great post players, and I thought our kids did a great job.”

Two weeks after Minnesota turned in one of its worst defensive performances against Iowa in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten tournament, the Gophers’ defense allowed its lowest point total of the season against the Green Wave.

Saturday’s game was a return to the type of defense that helped the Gophers win their final seven games of the regular season. Nonetheless, turnover problems plagued the Gophers, especially in the first half and in the post.

Minnesota turned the ball over 12 times in the first half and 20 times total.

“Our defense is right where it needs to be,” Borton said. “I thought we controlled the boards very well.

“But we’ve got to take care of the basketball. We’ve got to value the ball, value each possession that we have and execute a little better.”

While Borton focuses on defense and turnovers, scouting Stanford has been left up to assistant coach Melissa McFerrin, who will prepare the team for tonight’s opponent.

Whatever the case, both Borton and McFerrin know stopping Stanford and its inside game will require a performance similar to Saturday’s, but against a top-tier opponent with even better post players.

Aaron Blake covers women’s basketball and welcomes comments at [email protected]