On paper, the home team usually has a slight advantage over opponents. The Gophers women’s basketball team has proved this to be true this season, going 10-1 at Williams Arena.
The Gophers (18-6, 7-4 Big Ten) will have a four-game homestand as they wind down the regular season. It starts with a contest against Penn State (14-11, 5-7) on Sunday afternoon.
Coach Marlene Stollings shared the adage, taking things one game at a time, while noting each game will be difficult.
“Every team is battling for something right now, us included,” Stollings said. “Our eyes are set on the NCAA tournament. Our eyes are set on a top-four seed for the Big Ten tournament to get that double bye.”
The good news? They have four games in their house to feed off the energy of the crowd, Stollings said. These final few games coming at home could provide a big boost for her team as they sit on the bubble of making the NCAA tournament. Going a perfect 4-for-4 at home, especially with a couple of ranked opponents in the mix, could be enough to get them into the tournament.
They already set the table well with a key road victory against Purdue on Thursday. The Gophers beat the Boilermakers 78-74, ending Purdue’s seven-game home winning streak. Stollings was impressed with her team’s hustle, rebounding and the mature way they’ve managed the final 2½ minutes of the ballgame.
The Gophers have already beaten Penn State once, 91-71 on the road, shooting 57.6 percent from the field. Senior Carlie Wagner expects to see the high-tempo Penn State team pushing the ball in transition. The Gophers have their own speed, led by junior Kenisha Bell who is averaging 20 points per game.
Bell expects a fast-paced game as well, and both players mentioned the importance of defense.
“We’re just got to keep defending,” Bell said. “As long as we’re playing defense and being solid and aggressive on the boards, we should be good.”
The Gophers will also host top-25 teams Michigan and Maryland, then wrap up with Indiana at home before finishing the regular season at Illinois on Feb. 25. The Wolverines were No. 21 in the AP poll last week, the Terrapins No. 10.
“It’s a great finish here,” Stollings said. “Couldn’t set it up and script it any better.”
Sunday also marks the team’s annual Pink Game to raise awareness for cancer research. The players will suit up in pink jerseys and the first 1,000 fans will receive a commemorative pink scarf.
“In recent years, a lot has gotten lost in just wearing pink,” Stollings said. “What we’ve done is make sure that we’re very involved in the Pink Game.”
Each player decided to donate $250 of her scholarship money to the Kay Yow Cancer Fund, “which is phenomenal; you don’t really hear about that in Division I athletics very much,” Stollings said. The players, with a $3,000 total donation, challenged their head coach to match their gift. A $6,000 total donation will be presented in a pregame ceremony Sunday.
“We wanted to do something that had a bigger impact this year,” Wagner said.