Wisconsin and Minnesota will take the fierce Border Battle rivalry to the basketball court Thursday night, as the Badger women’s basketball team (2-5 Big Ten, 6-13 overall) heads to Minneapolis to take on the Golden Gophers (3-4, 11-10) at Williams Arena. The Badgers will look to string together consecutive conference victories after a dominating 75-55 win over Northwestern Sunday at the Kohl Center.
The Badgers swept the season series with Minnesota last season, earning one win over the Gophers at home and one on the road. Last year’s victory at Minnesota was hard-earned for Wisconsin as the Badgers came back from a 16-point first half deficit to win 71-63. Wisconsin also defeated Minnesota at Williams Arena two seasons ago, that game being a double overtime thriller that the Badgers won 76-74.
“It’s always fun playing Minnesota, and it’s always fun going there,” senior forward Anya Covington said.
Sophomore center Cassie Rochel is especially familiar with Minnesota. A Lakeville, Minn. native, Rochel has played with or against a number of players on the Golden Gophers roster and said she considered playing for Minnesota but ultimately wanted to attend a college farther away from home.
“I actually grew up with Rachel Banham, their starting freshman point guard,” Rochel said. “We played together for four years. So we were really close friends.”
Banham has certainly made a splash in her first year at Minnesota. The freshman is the leading scorer for the Gophers this year at 15.4 points per game and she is shooting 44.4 percent from three-point range. Banham is also averaging 5.7 rebounds per game.
Meanwhile, Rochel earned her first career start at Wisconsin against Northwestern on Sunday. She had missed the previous two games with a nose injury suffered against Purdue on Jan. 5. However, Rochel only played 10 minutes in the game because of foul trouble. She finished with two points, two rebounds and two blocks in the victory over the Wildcats.
Both Minnesota and Wisconsin could use a victory in the only regular season meeting between the two rivals this season. The two teams have started slow out of the gate in conference play, but a win would boost either team into the middle of the Big Ten pack.
Wisconsin head coach Bobbie Kelsey recognizes that there might be a revenge factor in play for the Gophers on Thursday, as the Badgers have won three straight games against Minnesota at Williams Arena, but she plans to treat the Gophers like any other opponent.
“If that’s what they need to motivate themselves, then go for it,” Kelsey said. “We’re going to continue to do what we do, work hard, have our game plan, and try to execute it to the best of our ability.”
Covington is coming off a career performance against Northwestern, in which she tallied a career-high 23 points and also added 12 rebounds. Despite the offensive outburst, she doesn’t plan on taking an increased offensive role in upcoming games.
“It’s a team game. So whoever’s hot that night, get the ball to them, and if they’re putting the ball in the basket, you have to keep going to that,” Covington said.
Tip-off for Thursday night’s game is scheduled for 7 p.m. at Williams Arena in Minneapolis.