College basketball always feels a little more intense after the Super Bowl, with March in view. And “intense” is a good forecast for the Gophers women’s basketball team’s game at Purdue on Thursday night. Here’s why:
• Purdue is listed by ESPN as one of the four teams just on the right side of the NCAA tournament bubble. The Boilermakers are 7-3 in the Big Ten.
• One game behind them are the 6-4 Gophers, who are listed as one of the teams on the wrong side of that bubble.
• Purdue is undefeated (4-0) at home in Big Ten play and 10-2 overall this season.
• Thursday is the Gophers’ final road game before a four-game homestand starts Sunday against Penn State. Impressive road victories can go a long way with tournament selection committees, and they’ll be watching Thursday night.
Coaches and players try to focus on each opponent — the “one-game-at-a-time” mentality — but it’s hard to ignore the high stakes that begin Thursday and run through Minnesota’s final six regular-season games.
Purdue has won six of seven games; Minnesota lost the last time out, in Iowa. A win for the Gophers on Thursday could put them on equal footing with Purdue in the NCAA tournament invite hunt; a loss would create a wider divide and put added pressure on the four-game homestand.