Scoring points hasn’t been a problem for the Gopher women’s basketball team. They rank second in the Big Ten averaging 85.2 points per game.
With that in mind, they’ll need to focus on their defensive game and rebounding as they look to keep rolling at home with a game against No. 10-ranked Maryland on Sunday afternoon at Williams Arena.
“Those are our two big areas,” senior Carlie Wagner said. “Because offensively, I think that we don’t really need to focus on that. That just comes naturally for us.”
The Gophers (20-6, 9-4 Big Ten) have won three straight games and six of their past seven. They’re 12-1 at home and have already beaten two ranked teams this season: then-No. 20 Iowa on Jan. 21 and No. 23 Michigan on Valentine’s Day.
Maryland (22-4, 11-2) sits atop the Big Ten, having won 20 of their past 22 games. However, they dropped a home game to Purdue, 75-65, on Thursday. The Terrapins are led by Kaila Charles, who averages 17.8 points per game. They ended the Gophers season last year, defeating them 92-80 in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten tournament.
“We know it’s a tough challenge, and they’re very talented, but we like how we’re playing right now,” coach Marlene Stollings said.
These two squads are nearly dead even in offensive rebounds this season. They rank first and second in the Big Ten each averaging 15.7 offensive rebounds per game.
“So I think for us, to be able to keep them off the offensive glass is going to be a huge key to the game,” Stollings said.
The Gophers have a slight edge in defensive rebounds, averaging 28.2 per game to rank second in the Big Ten, while Maryland sits in fifth at 27.3 per game. Something will have to give in the rebounding battle.
Whether it’s through top-notch defense or their scoring, the Gophers haven’t let ranked opponents rattle them this season. For example, Michigan started the second half on a 13-0 run but Minnesota responded and won.
The Gophers have a lot of fight in them, said sophomore forward Taiye Bello.
“When we’ve been down, maybe in the third quarter, we haven’t allowed that to dictate our poise,” Bello said. “That’s how we’ve been able to win as many games as we have.”
They’ve noticed the differences from last season to this season, and Stollings has seen the growth and maturity in her players. In the past, her team wasn’t up to the task of fighting through those close games well enough, Stollings said. Now, “you can never count us out of a game,” she said.
The players talk about close games they’ve won this year, like against Iowa and Purdue, and how they probably wouldn’t have won tight contests like that a season ago.
“This year, our mentality and our toughness is just so much better than last year,” senior center Jessie Edwards said.