Shorthanded U women's basketball team limps to the finish

  • Article by: KENT YOUNGBLOOD , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 1, 2014 - 11:46 PM

The shorthanded team, fighting for an NCAA tournament spot, showed fatigue in its last game.

The Gophers women’s basketball team has only one game left before the Big Ten tournament. But the question is, how much does the team have left for the stretch run?

Until senior Sari Noga gave the team a jolt of energy in Thursday’s come-from-behind victory over Indiana, the Gophers looked like a tired group.

Even coach Pam Borton admitted as much.

“I saw a little fatigue from our players,” she said. “But we willed our way and found a way to win.”

By doing so the Gophers (18-11, 7-8 Big Ten) kept their hopes for an NCAA tournament berth alive. Entering Thursday’s game the Gophers were 37th in the RPI rankings and were included in the tournament field by ESPN analyst Charlie Creme. After the victory, Borton indicated the team’s RPI was strong and that, should the team win at home in Sunday’s regular-season finale against Ohio State, the team’s résumé should be strong enough no matter what happens in the conference tournament.

Now it’s just a matter of replenishing the team’s energy supply.

Borton started the season with only 10 players on the roster, a number that dwindled to seven late in the season because of injuries.

That has meant a lot of minutes for the starters, particularly guard Rachel Banham and center Amanda Zahui B.

While the Gophers have won five of their past seven games, Banham has averaged more than 39 minutes per game. And it has taken a toll on Banham, who has shot 53-for-46 (36.3 percent) in that time.

“I’m used to playing a lot of minutes,” she said Thursday. “But I’m definitely getting tired at certain points. … I’m doing everything I can. I’m staying hydrated. I’m drinking Pedialyte every day. There are times when my energy is low, but I have to fight through it.”

So does the team. Which is why Borton joked Thursday about having the coaches follow the players home and make sure they got their sleep.

The Gophers will face an Ohio State team Sunday that is fading, losing six of its past seven games. It’s a game Minnesota is favored to win. A victory would give them a .500 conference mark and 19 wins overall. And the team would have three days to rest and practice before the conference tournament begins in Indianapolis.

Energy should not be an issue Sunday. There is still a lot at stake. Seniors Noga and Micaëlla Riché will be honored.

“They’ll be ready to go,” Borton said of her players. “It’s Senior Night. How can they not put it all on the floor for Micaëlla and Sari?’’

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