Women’s basketball looks for must win

Aaron Kirscht

The Gophers women’s basketball team plays its last nonconference home game tonight, against Marquette, at the Sports Pavilion.
Last year, Minnesota ended its nonconference with a win over Marquette, 80-73, in Milwaukee. But the Gophers went winless in their remaining 17 games (including a first round loss in the Big Ten tournament to Ohio State) and finished 4-23, 0-16 in the conference.
Things haven’t been much better this season, as the Gophers have started out 1-4 and are coming off an 18-point loss at Colorado State.
Marquette, meanwhile, evened their record at 3-3 with a 21-point win over crosstown rival Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Forward Clare Barnard — who averaged 17 points and seven rebounds per game last season — and freshman forward Ayesha Rembert combined for 33 points in the Eagles’ 79-58 win.
It’s clear that the Gophers are still learning to play together, but coach Linda Hill-MacDonald said that the addition of several walk-ons to the roster and continued game experience will help the team as the season wears on.
“We haven’t had the ability to get into the flow of a game in practice at all,” Hill-MacDonald said. “That’s made it really difficult. (But with the walk-ons) we can set up game situations and create pressure situations in practice. That should help a lot.”
Following the Marquette game, the Gophers will embark on a three-game road trip that will lead up to Big Ten opener at home against Iowa on Dec. 28.
First up is Wisconsin-Green Bay on Sunday. The Phoenix was 1-2 heading into Thursday’s game against No. 23 Wisconsin.
Minnesota got their second win last season at home against UWGB, 63-60. The Phoenix finished last season atop the Midwestern Collegiate conference with a 20-9 overall record.
The Gophers will then travel to Las Vegas to participate in the University of Nevada-Las Vegas Tournament Dec. 19 and 20.
Minnesota opens the tournament against Stephen F. Austin, and will play either UNLV or Fairfield in the second game the following day.
Stephen F. Austin is a regular fixture on the Gophers men’s schedule, but the women’s teams haven’t met since 1990 — the first year of Hill-MacDonald’s tenure at Minnesota. The Gophers lost that game 84-66.
Minnesota has never played either UNLV or Fairfield.
Win or lose, their upcoming games will give the Gophers continued opportunities to gauge their growth as a team.
“A lot of these players didn’t play together last year, and having a sense for each other on the floor takes time,” Hill-MacDonald said. “That’s what experience is, really, when a team has had time to play together.”