Head coach Marlene Stollings has never shied away from telling her team the importance of a game or record-breaking event.
As Minnesota’s regular season wraps up with a final game against Iowa on Sunday, its postseason status hangs in uncertainty.
With one victory, the Gophers would tie the school record for most victories in a season.
Along with Minnesota, four other teams are vying for three of the top four spots in March’s Big Ten tournament.
“It’s mid- to late-February, and we need to raise our level of intensity. It’s that time where everybody is going to be doing it,” Stollings said Monday.
Before Nebraska’s 74-50 drubbing of Minnesota on Tuesday, the Gophers controlled their own destiny.
If they had won both of their remaining games, they would have solidified a coveted top-four seed.
With the loss, the Gophers need some serious help to crack the top four.
As a top-four seed, Minnesota would have a bye for the first two days of the tournament and play a maximum of three games in three days if it reached the championship.
Rutgers and Northwestern — two of the five battling teams — will play each other Thursday, and while one of them will have to lose, Minnesota lost its head-to-head matchup with both schools.
In the two matchups, senior forward Shae Kelley scored a total of 10 points.
She said the games down the stretch are “absolutely crucial” for the Gophers to win in order to stay in the top-four hunt.
Minnesota’s final game against Iowa will certainly be crucial.
During the first matchup against Iowa this season — a 93-80 victory — redshirt sophomore Amanda Zahui B. set a Big Ten record in rebounds.
“I did it for the team. We had to win, and I’ll do anything it takes,” Zahui B. said after the game.
Minnesota will need the 6-foot-5-inch center to “do anything it takes” Sunday for the Gophers to pull out a big road victory.
But win or lose, the Gophers will retain a top-six seed in the Big Ten tournament.
“Our kids are going to be very confident going into Iowa. We obviously have beaten them here, and we know how to play them,” Stollings said Saturday. “We’re fighting for a top-four seed in the Big Ten tournament still. That’s a bottleneck right now, so we need to control what we can control.”
Not only will the Gophers need to control what they can, but for the top-four spot, Minnesota will need to have a little luck on its side.
Minnesota only has one remaining game, but the four other bottlenecked teams still have two games to play.
For the Gophers to crack a top-four spot, they will first need a victory at Iowa on Sunday and then also need two of the tightly grouped teams to lose both of their remaining contests.
“We are in an absolute dogfight,” Stollings said Saturday. “It’s going to come down to probably our last game at Iowa.”