After dropping two conference games in a row, the women’s basketball team has a month to double its win total if it’s to avoid its worst conference record since a 1-15 Big Ten finish ten years ago.
It’s been an especially challenging year for the Gophers: Many players have had to step into new roles, and only one senior has started consistently. Minnesota ranks in the bottom half of every offensive category in the Big Ten other than three-point percentage, but the Gophers make the fewest treys per game.
Minnesota (11-14 overall, 3-9 Big Ten) found a bit of a rhythm before dropping consecutive games against Iowa and Ohio State by a combined 9 points. The Gophers will try to recapture the late-game intensity that recently helped them to a three game win streak tonight at home against Purdue.
“We’ve gotten so much better throughout the course of the year, and I’m very proud of where team’s at,” head coach Pam Borton said after the team’s loss to Ohio State on Sunday. “Unfortunately, it’s not showing in the win column.”
One thing the Gophers should be happy about is seeing Purdue back at Williams Arena. Last year, Minnesota handled the Boilermakers, winning 74-47 in its largest home victory in the Big Ten since a 71-33 win over Northwestern during the 2005-06 season. China Antoine and Kiara Buford combined for 34 points on 13-of-25 shooting, and Jackie Voigt grabbed 10 boards, four of them offensive. As the only returning starters from that game, they will likely have to lead the team again if the Gophers hope for a similar outcome.
The Boilermakers have been struggling on the road recently, winning just one of their last six. But they’ve been solid for most of the year, posting a 17-9 overall record, 7-6 in the Big Ten, and handing Penn State one of only three conference losses it has suffered this year.
Purdue comes into the game with one of the best defenses in the Big Ten, with opponents shooting just 37 percent from the field and grabbing just 33 rebounds per game, good for first and second in the conference, respectively.
Minnesota’s opponents, on the other hand, average better than 40 percent from the field — ninth in the Big Ten. The Gophers will need to go back to the defense they were playing during their winning streak when they didn’t allow any of the teams they beat to reach 60 points. On Sunday, the Buckeyes put up 83, the most Minnesota has allowed in a Big Ten game in five years.
Something to look for in tonight’s game will be Buford’s push towards 1,000 career points. She comes into the game just 16 shy of the mark, and with an average of nearly 18 points per game over her last six contests, there’s a good chance she’ll eclipse the mark.
This will be the second-to-last home game for the Gophers this year, the final one coming a week from Sunday against No. 11 Michigan State. Tip-off is at 2 p.m. The game will be streamed live on bigtennetwork.com and broadcast on KBEM (88.5 FM).
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