The Gophers don’t open play at the Big Ten women’s basketball tournament until Thursday, when they face Penn State in the second round. Coach Marlene Stollings hopes that before they take the floor at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, they can take in the show as spectators.
Stollings said Monday she wants to get the Gophers to Indianapolis early enough for the team to watch one of Wednesday’s first-round games. With eight players making their Big Ten tournament debuts, she is looking for ways to maximize their excitement while minimizing any nervousness. She won’t need any help with the first task, but the second is essential to making a run at a postseason tournament berth.
The 10th-seeded Gophers enter Thursday’s game against No. 7 seed Penn State with three consecutive losses, including a 93-60 thumping at second-ranked Maryland on Sunday. They have five victories in their past 16 games, and their RPI ranking has sunk to 79.
The Gophers likely would need to win the Big Ten tournament to make the NCAA tournament field, and with a 14-15 record, they need to win at least one game to reach .500 and be eligible for an at-large berth to the Women’s NIT.
“If we can get them there to see a little bit of the action on the first day, we will, so they’re not walking into the gym for the first time before the game on Thursday,” Stollings said during a conference call with Big Ten coaches. “We have some video footage and different things we’re going to share with them of all the excitement and atmosphere that surrounds the tournament, so they will have seen a little bit of that ahead of time and they’re not just experiencing it brand-new when we walk in.
“We have eight young ladies headed to their first-ever Big Ten tournament, so they’re eager to get there and experience the atmosphere. And we hope to get on a run and have fun in the tournament.”
Stollings admitted Monday the Gophers “have our work cut out for us” to get an invitation to a postseason tournament. They lost at Penn State 77-66 on Feb. 8 in a game that highlighted two stubborn deficiencies: shooting and rebounding.
The Gophers shot 36.5 percent against the Nittany Lions and were outrebounded 47-43. They are 0-8 in conference play when they do not outrebound their opponent, and their field-goal percentage has been 34.5 percent or worse in the past four games. The Gophers shot just 29.7 percent at Maryland.
Despite falling behind by as many as 36 points against the Terrapins, Stollings said the Gophers were not emotionally distraught by the loss and are energized by the chance to start fresh.
“Our young ladies are pretty resilient,” she said. “What I felt on the way home [from Maryland] is the excitement of, ‘It’s [a] 0-0 [record] now.’ And we have a chance to go and do something. It’s that next season, and I think they’re very much looking forward to it.”
Stollings said she is hopeful that freshman guard Gadiva Hubbard, who sat out the Maryland game because of a leg injury, will be ready to play Thursday.
Wagner second-team All-Big Ten
Gophers junior guard Carlie Wagner was chosen second-team All-Big Ten for the second year in a row. Guard Kenisha Bell made honorable mention, and senior forward Joanna Hedstrom received a Big Ten sportsmanship award. Northwestern senior Nia Coffey, a Hopkins graduate, repeated as a first-team choice.