The #4 seed Minnesota Golden Gophers women’s basketball team finally gets to get into action at the Big Ten Tournament Friday afternoon when they will play the #5 seeded Iowa Hawkeyes. Iowa defeated #12 seed Northwestern 55-45 on Thursday to advance to play the Gophers.
Minnesota and Iowa split the season series 1-1 this season. Minnesota defeated the then #20 Hawkeyes 77-72 at Williams Arena in January. Kenisha Bell led the way for Minnesota with 21 points and 11 rebounds, while Carlie Wagner added 15 points and Destiny Pitts added 11 of her own. Iowa would win the rematch in Iowa City by a 92-84 final score. Co-Big Ten Player of the year Megan Gustafson scored 25 points and added 15 rebounds to lead the Hawkeyes. Bell would score a career high 35 points in the loss.
Minnesota received the #4 seed and the coveted double bye after the Gophers went 11-5 in Big Ten play. It was Minnesota’s best finish in the Big Ten since the 2007-08 season. The Gophers enter Friday ranked #47 in the RPI. That ranking coupled with Minnesota’s weak non-conference schedule puts them squarely on the NCAA Tournament bubble despite their Big Ten finish. As of earlier this week Minnesota was one of the last four teams in on ESPN’s projected bracket. While they may not need a win in the Big Ten tournament, beating the Hawkeyes on Friday will most likely ensure the Gophers end up in the field of 64.
One thing Minnesota has going for it is its prolific offense. Minnesota enters the weekend averaging 84.9 points per game which is second in the Big Ten behind only Ohio State, and ranks fifth in the NCAA. Minnesota is led by a pair of First Team All-Big Ten honorees in Kenisha Bell and Carlie Wagner. Bell leads the team with 19.6 points per game, and Wagner is second with 18.3 points per game. Additionally Minnesota has the Big Ten Freshman of the Year in Destiny Pitts who is averaging 13.1 points and a team-best 7.4 rebounds per game this year.
The Gophers also live and die by the three pointer. Minnesota is 15th in the country in 3-pointers made with 260 and in 3-pointers made per game with 9. However, they have been quite cold in their last two games—a loss to Indiana at home and a win over lowly Illinois to end the regular season.
As for the Hawkeyes, they come in on a tear. They have an eight game winning streak including their win over Northwestern on Thursday. Iowa finished the regular season with a 24-6 record also going 11-5 in the Big Ten to earn the #5 seed. Iowa is led by Co-Big Ten Player of the Year Megan Gustafson. She entered the tournament averaging 25.3 points per game which led the country, and was fifth in the country at 12.8 rebounds per game. She is also very efficient and leads the nation in field goal percentage at 66.7%. Minnesota held Gustafson to 20 points and 10 rebounds in the Gophers win at Williams arena, but gave up 25 and 15 in their loss in Iowa City.
Keys to a Gopher win:
- Stop Megan Gustafson. Obviously controlling the damage Gustafson will do is a key for Minnesota to win. Gustafson was limited to only 12 points by Northwestern in the Wildcats loss, so Minnesota will need to try and do the same. If its another 25/15 game for her, it will be tough for Minnesota to win.
- Hit the three pointers. Minnesota lives and dies by the three. The Gophers have struggled in their last few games behind the arc, but will need to find the touch early in Friday’s game.
- Leaders lead. its the postseason. Time for Kenisha Bell and Carlie Wagner to do what they do. Let them try and advance the Gophers to the Big Ten semifinals.
I think the Gophers get it done. it will be a very close game, but I feel Minnesota locks down their NCAA bid with a 86-81 win over the Hawkeyes.
HOW TO WATCH:
#4 Minnesota Golden Gophers vs #5 Iowa Hawkeyes
Where: Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis, Indiana
When: Approximately 1:30 PM Friday
TV: BTN broadcast simulcast on Fox Sports North
Radio: 93,3 FM