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Terps women face intriguing match-up at Minnesota

Brenda Frese returns to Minnesota. The surprising Golden Gophers continue to win despite losing the consensus Big Ten preseason Player of the Year. A meeting between the two conference remaining unbeatens. Just some of the story lines to watch in Sunday's match-up.

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WHO: Maryland Terrapins (12-2, 3-0) @ Minnesota Golden Gophers (14-1, 3-0)

WHAT: Women's basketball B1G Conference game

WHERE: Williams Arena, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN

WHEN: Sunday, January 11, 2015 3:00 p.m. ET

WATCH: In Person


STREAM: ESPN3 (for cable subscribers)

Why are these Gophers Golden?

Uff da! Isn't it just like Minnesotans to leave so little room for outsiders to have material to harass them about the nickname of their state university's athletic team? Well, maybe not given that it is the state that elected Jesse "The Body" Ventura as its governor and sent Al Franken to the U.S. Senate. So there's always that.

As for the Gophers, it seems there are no alternatives such as Cornfield Sailors or Bugeaters in Minnesota's past. Or if there were, they lie at the bottom of one of the state's 10,000 lakes. According to the University's website,

"The Gopher mascot is a tradition as old as the state. Minnesota was tabbed the "Gopher State" in 1857 after a satirizing cartoon, depicting nine Gophers with the heads of local politicians pulling a locomotive, was published. The story was over legislative action for a $5 million railroad proposal in western Minnesota. Later, the University picked up the nickname."

And when they say later, they mean later. Elsewhere on the site, they state that Clarence Spears, the football coach "named his team the Gophers in 1926." Minnesota played it's first football game in 1882. Could it be that the team played 44 years without an official nickname? Perhaps. I can find no indication otherwise.

Though gold does not seem to be a color that appears on gophers in nature, it did not take the university nearly as long to attach Golden to their moniker:

"The "Golden" adjective has not always been a part of the Gopher nickname. During the 1930 season, the Minnesota football team wore gold jerseys and pants. Legendary KSTP-AM radio announcer Halsey Hall coined the term "Golden Gophers" in reference to the team's all-gold attire on the field."

The mascot is Goldy Gopher. The earliest renderings of Goldy seem to have appeared in the 1940s as a merchandising tool. But,

"The embodiment of the Gopher mascot came to life in 1952 when U of M assistant bandmaster Jerome Glass bought a fuzzy wool gopher suit with a papier mache head and asked one of the band members to climb into it. "Goldy" Gopher (the first name seems to have appeared sometime in the '70's) became a fixture with the Marching Band and Pep Band."

A last bit of history especially for those who Terrapins who attend the game or who have very sharp ears. You might hear the phrase "Ski-U-Mah" as a cheer or in the fight song. Here's how this bon mot came about:

"SKY-YOU-MAH, is more than 115 years old. In 1884, two Minnesota rugby players, John W. Adams and Win Sargent, tried to think of a fitting team yell. They used the word "Ski", a Sioux battle cry meaning victory, and combined it with "U-Mah" (representing the University of Minnesota and rhyming with "rah-rah-rah") to create a team cheer. The phrase stuck and was incorporated into both official school songs, "Hail Minnesota" and more commonly in the "Minnesota Rouser."

Golden Gophers on the court

Despite having the preseason Big Ten Player of the Year in Rachel Banham, Minnesota was not among the top three teams in the preseason B1G Coaches Poll. Michigan State and Iowa followed Maryland on that list. Yet, when the teams take the court Sunday afternoon, the winner will emerge as the sole remaining unbeaten team in conference play.

The Gophers surprising early run has come without Banham who tore her ACL in a game against North Dakota State. Up to the time of her injury Banham had averaged 18.6 points per game (and her 186 points scored is still third best on the team). With 2,179 points, Banham was on a path to surpass Lindsay Whalen's Minnesota career scoring record of 2,286. Despite losing Banham, the Gophers have racked up five straight wins with three of those coming in league play including wins over Nebraska (72-69) and at Purdue (81-68).

The Cornhuskers and Boilermakers are the only common opponents the Golden Gophers have with the Terrapins. However, Minnesota has a neutral court win over Georgia Tech and a road win at (never pick) N.C. State in their B1G-ACC Challenge game.

While the Gophers are ranked 23rd in the AP Poll and received votes in the Coaches Poll, they are ranked 14th in the most recent RPI. Still, they have not compiled the sort of statistics that make them appear to be a particularly threatening team. Looking at standard stats within the conference, Minnesota is fifth in points per game at 77.3, but their 64.5 points allowed is only 11th best. They are seventh in field goal percentage and 10th from behind the arc at 43.8 percent and 31.3 percent respectively.

Minnesota's filed goal percentage defense at 36.2 is a tad better than Maryland's 36.7 and the teams stand fourth and fifth respectively in the conference. The Gophers block more shots per game than any team other than Ohio State, but they are not a great rebounding squad averaging just 1.8 more rebounds per game than their opposition.

In possession-based statistics, the Golden Gophers concede 0.84 points per possession (ppp) and their opponents score at least one point 59.2 percent of the time. Those numbers place Minnesota eighth and fifth respectively. Maryland leads the conference giving up a point on just 51.4 percent of their opponents' possessions and the Terps' 0.77 defensive ppp is second behind Northwestern.

Offensively, Minnesota is one of six B1G teams to score at least one ppp. Maryland leads the conference at 1.11. The Gophers like to get up and down the floor playing at an average of 76.4 possessions per 40 minutes - fifth best in the Big Ten and slightly faster than Maryland at 75.9.

Since the Gophers bring a 12-1 record into the game, fans might be advised to place less weight on their middling statistics and focus more on the fact that they simply win.

Players to watch

Amanda Zahui B #32, sophomore, center, 6'5". For the second game in a row, the Terps will face a player who averages a double double (15.9 points/11.5 rebounds) for the season, reigning Big Ten Player of the Week, Amanda Zahui B. If Maryland fans were impressed by Brionna Jones' 17-rebound effort against Purdue, then Zahui B's 19 against that squad should impress them even more. Zahui B led the Gophers in scoring in the three games following Banham's injury. The Swedish sophomore is also the reason Minnesota is near the top of the conference in blocked shots where she leads the league at 4.1 per game.

Kelley, Shae, #23, senior, forward, 6'1". A solid player in her own right, Shae has been the one to step up in Banham's absence. She is tied with Zahui B with 15.9 points per game (first on the active roster) and has led the Gophers in scoring in their last two contests. Shae is also the second leading rebounder pulling down 8.1 boards per game.


As it was with Nebraska, Sunday's meeting will be only the third all-time between the schools and Maryland has won the first two. The first came in 1980 and resulted in an 86-74 Maryland win. Coach Brenda Frese has faced the squad she helmed for one season before coming to Maryland just once. The Golden Gophers came to College Park as part of the 2009 B1G-ACC Challenge and, after falling behind 7-0 to start the game, the Terps would roll to a comfortable 66-45 win.

In conclusion

"I'm really looking forward to it," said Coach Frese of her first return to the site where she was the Big Ten Coach of the Year. "I haven't been back in 13 years and to be able to come back with this team is pretty special. Definitely looking forward to all the family and friends who are going to be there so it's pretty cool," she added. Frese also thinks it's cool that Minnesota's waiting for Maryland in a clash of the two teams at the top of the conference.

Thus far this season, Minnesota is unbeaten at Williams Arena - affectionately know as The Barn because, well, people think it  looks like a barn - under second first year head coach Marlene Stollings. Since Frese left, the Golden Gophers have compiled a 155-47 home record.

The Gophers come into the game on a 10-game winning streak while the Terps have won six straight. Having coached at Minnesota, Frese should be able to prepare her team to play on The Barn's elevated floor. Maryland has been protecting the ball better as of late. In their six game winning streak, the Terrapins have averaged nearly 20 assists to 13 turnovers. They need to continue this against a Minnesota team that forces only 14.7 turnovers per game and creates a turnover on only 19 percent of their foes' possessions.

Although Zahui B can be a dominating inside presence, Maryland should still have a general advantage in size and length and will, as they have also done recently, need to continue to assert themselves on the glass. Zhaui B has shown herself prone to some foul trouble having fouled out of two games this season so the Terps should try to exploit that in spite of the sophomore's shot blocking ability.

If Maryland can focus on these things, they should not have to do this:

to win the game.

According to the GAMER Prediction System, Maryland has a 54 percent chance of winning the game with a final predicted score of 78-76.