The Michigan women”s basketball team is in the eye of the storm that is its Big Ten schedule. But the lull ends after tonight as the Wolverines (6-4 Big Ten, 13-7 overall) face Minnesota (1-7, 8-11) before heading to No. 6 Purdue on Sunday.
Minnesota”s lone Big Ten victory came against lowly Northwestern, which has yet to win a conference game. But to Michigan, there is no chance to look past a Big Ten game.
“We came out on Sunday and didn”t play very well,” junior guard Alayne Ingram said. “We don”t want the same thing to happen against Minnesota because they are a better team than they have been in the past.”
Last Sunday, the Wolverines needed to rally in the second half to defeat the Wildcats 74-59. This came just 10 days after Michigan traveled to Evanston and thumped Northwestern by 42.
The Golden Gophers are led by youth. Minnesota starts three players in their first year. They used to also start freshman Tanisha Gilbert and her 14.7 points a game until she became academically ineligible for the second semester. Her replacement, senior Brandy Pickens, has managed just nine points in her five games since taking over as a starter.
Freshman Lindsay Whalen leads the Gopher youth corps in scoring at 18.2 points per game second in the Big Ten to fellow freshman Kelly Mazzante of Penn State with 18.3.
The rest of the Golden Gophers are more than just a supporting cast to Whalen. Newcomer Ozlem Piroglu has also had a strong impact for Minnesota. Piroglu, a Turkish national team member, is second in the Big Ten in assists, averaging 5.8 per game. Sharp-shooting sophomore Lindsay Lieser tied her own Minnesota record by making 7-of-15 3-pointers against Illinois.
Whalen is the leading scorer, but anyone can step up for the Golden Gophers. Whalen has led the team in scoring in just six games, and four others have been Minnesota”s high scorer.
Despite their record, the Golden Gophers are still cause for concern for the Wolverines. Minnesota nearly defeated Illinois last Sunday and lost to Michigan State and Indiana by a combined four points.
“I know that Minnesota may be at the bottom (of the standings), but they are still just as capable of beating anybody,” junior Raina Goodlow said.
In addition to having Purdue in the back of its mind, Michigan is also concerned about the health of starter and co-captain Anne Thorius. Thorius has a mild sprain after rolling her ankle against Northwestern and is not likely to play against Minnesota. Despite being relegated to a protective walking boot and crutches, Thorius is hopeful for a quick return.
“I feel fine. There is no pain or anything,” Thorius said.
Freshman Stephanie Gandy was sidelined with a similar injury two weeks ago and missed two games.
After tonight, the Wolverines will have five conference games remaining. Four of those games are against teams ahead of Michigan in the Big Ten, including road games at Purdue and No. 15 Penn State.