Tuesday night, thousands of students and fans stormed the court of Williams Arena after Minnesota upset No. 1 Indiana in men’s basketball.
Thursday night, the Golden Gophers of Minnesota will look for the same result as they take on the No. 7 Lady Lions in the same building.
While the Lions are quick to dismiss any notion of a Cinderella upset in their future, it’s a scenario that almost came true the last time Minnesota and Penn State met on the court.
On Jan. 24, the Lions squeaked past Minnesota, 64-59, at the Bryce Jordan Center, in a physical Big Ten bout.
Minnesota stayed in the game because of a strong offensive presence from its leading scorer Rachel Banham, who scored 19 points.
“She was attacking, she was aggressive,” center Nikki Greene said after the teams’ first meeting. “She mixed up how she was looking to score, she had a three in the first half, she was taking some pull ups, getting to the rim, she got herself to the free throw line.”
The senior from Diboll, Texas added that Banham could have been tougher inside the paint, initiating contact to get the free throw line more. Greene might hope the opposite in their rematch.
For Minnesota, the success of Banham nearly determines the result of the game.
Out of Minnesota’s12 losses, nine came when Banham was held under 20 points.
Out of Minnesota’s 16 wins, 10 have come when Banham scored 20 or more points.
As head coach Coquese Washington and her players said in Wednesday’s weekly media day, defense will be critical.
Forward Tori Waldner said that keeping Banham in front will lead to defensive success. It’s also something that assistant coach Fred Chmiel was quick to point out in a defensive drill.
Maggie Lucas and Mia Nickson were running a full court, offense and defense, 2-on-2 drill with members of the practice squad on offense. When Nickson and Lucas went for a double team trap, they left a hole for their opposition to escape through.
Chmiel quickly came over to instruct not just Nickson and Lucas, but the whole team that it is crucial to put your hands up and get in front of the opponent.
Guard Dara Taylor expects an extremely physical game from Minnesota, which will be carrying tons of emotion, as it is the team’s senior night.
Emotion is one thing that the Lady Lions hope won’t distract them.
After Sunday’s Pink Zone game and clinching a co-share of the Big Ten, a letdown game is a possibility. But Washington said she thinks that going to Minnesota favors them in avoiding disappointment.
“Going on the road, allows you to get away from the pleasant distractions of family and friends and what not,” Washington said. “You got nothing to do, but sit in a hotel and think about Minnesota.”