There aren’t many teams in the country that are playing better basketball than IU.
After battling to seven wins in its last eight games, IU finds itself in the conversation for one of four double-byes in March’s Big Ten Tournament. The Hoosiers, at 17-9 (9-5), are tied with Michigan State for fourth place in the conference.
Thursday, IU will face a team that is also playing some of the best basketball in the nation. Third-place Minnesota (18-7, 10-4) will enter Assembly Hall with eight wins in its past nine games.
The Gophers are undefeated in February in large part to the play of senior guard Rachel Banham. The 5-foot-9 point guard tied an NCAA record with 60 points in a double overtime win against Northwestern, before hitting a game-winning 3-pointer to down Iowa on Monday.
Thursday will mark the second meeting this season between the two sizzling teams. In mid-January, Minnesota used a late 3-pointer to down IU in Minneapolis, 78-76. Banham scored 24 points in that game.
“There’s no question it’s a big opportunity,” Moren told IUHoosiers.com. “We’re at home, we felt like we let one slip away at Minnesota. That game is still fresh on our minds. They’re riding some terrific momentum and Banham has just been unbelievable.”
Banham, who passed Ohio State’s Jantel Lavender for second place on the Big Ten’s all-time scoring list, scored 35 points Monday against Iowa. The Minnesota native has scored at least 20 points in all but one Big Ten game this season.
“She gives everybody confidence when you have a player that can go out and get a bucket at any time,” Moren said. “Her teammates have a relaxed mentality and feel that they can shoot it with ease because they always know they have her in their back pocket.”
Against the Gophers, the Hoosiers will try to avenge one of five conference losses suffered this season.
Despite 17 points and eight assists from sophomore guard Tyra Buss, Minnesota was able to snap a two-game losing skid against IU. Freshman forward Kym Royster scored a career-high 17 points in the first meeting between the teams.
“Looking back, that game was something that we weren’t very proud of,” Cahill said. “After we tried to fix the things we didn’t do so well, hopefully this time around we’ll fix those issues and come out on top.”
Along with Banham, Minnesota also boasts a backcourt duo with 5-foot-10 sophomore guard Carlie Wagner, who averages 19.3 points per game this season.
The Gophers feature three players that average in double-figure scoring, as senior guard Shayne Mullaney scores 10.1 points per game.
While the Hoosiers won the rebounding battle by four boards in the teams’ first meeting, Moren said that her team must improve on the glass in order to combat a potent Gopher attack.
“We’re going to have to play a little differently than we did the first time around,” she said. “Those are two kids that don’t need a lot of space to get their shots off. We didn’t do a good enough job rebounding the ball and we’re trying to get that right by Thursday night.”
With just five games remaining, Thursday’s clash will be a pivotal battle for the elusive double-bye into the quarterfinals of the conference tournament. The Hoosiers, who are undefeated at home, face both Iowa and Nebraska on the road before hosting Penn State to conclude the regular season.
“This is a special group, they’re on track to do something that hasn’t been done here in a really long time, and that’s make history,” Moren said.