Gophers women face tall task at Michigan State


5 p.m. Monday at Michigan State, Breslin Center

TV; radio: BTN; 96.7 FM

Opening bell: The Gophers (14-7, 4-6 Big Ten) are coming off a third consecutive loss, Wednesday night, to visiting Penn State. It was their first full game without leading scorer Mara Braun, who is recovering from surgery on her injured right foot. With Janay Sanders in the starting lineup for Braun, the Gophers attacked the rim more — they scored 44 points in the paint — and received balanced scoring, but they made just two of 16 three-point attempts. The team improved defensively as the game went on, but missed open shots and missed defensive assignments put Minnesota in an early hole.

Watch her: The Spartans are led by two grad student guards in Moira Joiner and Julia Ayrault, both of whom are averaging 14.9 points. Ayrault has averaged 18.6 points in the Spartans' current three-game winning streak. Gophers guard Amaya Battle has averaged 13.3 points and 4.0 rebounds in her last three games. Freshman Grace Grocholski has scored in double figures in four of five games.

Forecast: The Gophers got their best victory of the season with a 69-50 triumph over Michigan State at Williams Arena on Jan. 20. With Mallory Heyer scoring 18 points, hitting five of eight three-point tries and pulling down 15 rebounds, the Gophers handed the Spartans (16-5, 6-4) their worst lost of the season. That will be a difficult feat to duplicate. In three victories in a row since the Minnesota loss, the Spartans have scored an average of 87 points and won by an average of 22. The Spartans are 10-1 at home this season, the only loss coming to Nebraska.