Lindsay Whalen’s Gophers women’s basketball team has had ups and downs this season, and the coach has made it clear what she considers to be the highest up, a 76-71 victory at Nebraska four weeks ago.
Minnesota (7-11 overall, 6-10 Big Ten) went on to win five of seven games and separate itself from the bottom of the Big Ten.
“That was the signature win of our season,” Whalen said Tuesday, and not for the first time. “That was a really big team win.”
The Gophers are looking for more as they start their last homestand with a 6 p.m. rematch against the Cornhuskers (11-9, 9-8). Led by forward Isabelle Bourne, Nebraska has won its past two games.
Minnesota will have its hands full regardless. Bourne didn’t play the last time the teams met because of an ankle injury, and the Gophers could be without one of their two leading scorers because sophomore point guard Jasmine Powell is questionable after rolling her left ankle in last Saturday’s 93-62 loss at Maryland.
The good news is that sophomore off guard Sara Scalia is expected to play after being sidelined by a non-COVID illness. Scalia (14.9-point average) and Powell (14.5) are virtually tied for the scoring lead.
“Sara’s been able to practice the last few days, so she’s been back and available,” Whalen said.
Powell had 15 points, five assists and four rebounds at Nebraska but hasn’t practiced since rolling her left ankle during a drive late in the first half in College Park, Md. She is questionable for Wednesday’s game.
“Jas is being evaluated by the medical team and our trainers, so I’ll get an update at some point on her,” Whalen said. “So, we’ll see how she’s been progressing.”
Powell has been battling an ankle injury for much of the season. If she can’t play, the point will be manned by three freshmen: starter Alexia Smith and backups Katie Borowicz and Caroline Strande.
Bourne, a 6-foot-2 sophomore, is the Big Ten Player of the Week after scoring 21 and 22 points, respectively, in Nebraska victories over then-No. 24 Northwestern and Penn State. Gophers sophomore Kadi Sissoko will be her primary defensive foil.
Smith likely will be tasked with tracking junior guard Sam Haiby, who scored a team-high 25 points in the last meeting. Guard Ashley Scoggins added 15 points against Minnesota.
“That Bourne kid has come in and is playing great. … She’s a tough matchup,” Whalen said. “She plays a lot like Kadi; she can play the 3 (position), but she can slide over to the 4. It’s a new dimension for them.”
The Gophers are scheduled to host Michigan in a 1:30 p.m. tipoff on Sunday, then finish their regular season March 5 at Illinois. The Big Ten tournament is scheduled for March 9-13 in Indianapolis.