No. 20 Minnesota (5-0) continues its six-game homestand Thursday night against No. 12 Syracuse (6-1) at 7:30 p.m. in the 12th annual ACC/Big Ten Challenge.
The game will be televised by the Big Ten Network and heard statewide on the Gopher Radio Network.
• Fans are encouraged to wear their favorite gold attire for Thursday’s “Goldout” against the Orange.
• In addition, the first 1,000 fans will get a free “Goldout” shirt.
THE OPENING TIP-OFF
• The Golden Gophers are looking to start 6-0 for the second straight season and the fifth time in program history. Lindsay Whalen is just one of two coaches in program history to win her first five games. The other to do it was her former coach, Pam Borton, who won her first 12 games during the 2002-03 season, Whalen’s junior year.
• Sitting 5-0 on the season, Minnesota enters Thursday’s game ranked No. 20 in the AP Poll. It’s the team’s highest ranking since also being ranked No. 20 on Feb. 27, 2006. After coming in at No. 23 last week and No. 25 the week prior, this is the first time the Gophers have been ranked for three consecutive weeks since Jan. 5 (23), Jan. 12 (23), Jan. 19 (21) of 2015. It’s just the sixth time overall the team has appeared in the AP Poll since the 2005-06 season.
• Thursday marks the first AP Top-25 matchup for Minnesota in nearly four years. The last occurrence came on Jan. 25, 2015, when the 21st-ranked Golden Gophers lost at No. 25 Rutgers, 66-61. Looking to snap a five-game losing streak in Top-25 games, Minnesota is 15-27 all-time in such contests and 11-17 when the lower-ranked team. However, the Gophers are 10-8 at home in Top-25 games. During head coach Lindsay Whalen’s time as a player, the Gophers were 10-10 in Top-25 games. Additionally, the Gophers are 107-39 all-time when ranked 20th or better in the AP Poll.
• Minnesota has allowed just 235 points in five games (47.0 ppg) so far this year. That’s the lowest point total allowed in the first five games of the season for the Gophers since the 1973-74 season, the first year where program game-by-game records exist. That season, they held their first four opponents to a combined 230 points (46.0).
• Junior forward Taiye Bello recorded a double-double in each of the first three games of the season, and though she didn’t have one in game four against Arkansas-Pine Bluff, she did produce a career-high 19 rebounds. Through Tuesday’s games, Bello was eighth nationally in rebounds per game (13.6) and offensive rebounds per game (5), 19th in total rebounds (68), 21st in defensive rebounds per game (8) and 25th in double-doubles (3).
ACC/BIG TEN CHALLENGE HISTORY
• 2018-19 marks the 12th installment of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. The Golden Gophers are 4-7 all-time in the event, including a 3-2 mark at home. Minnesota is looking to snap a three-game losing streak in the event.
• Last season, the Gophers rallied in the second half to close a double-digit gap, but suffered an 88-83 loss at North Carolina. Minnesota got 25 points from Gadiva Hubbard, 19 from Carlie Wagner and 16 from Kenisha Bell. Trailing by as many as 11, Minnesota got as close as three points in the fourth quarter, but UNC went back ahead by 10 and held off the Gophers.
SERIES WITH SYRACUSE
• Minnesota and Syracuse will meet for the first time on Thursday, one of six new opponents for the Gophers this year, along with New Hampshire, Arkansas-Pine Bluff and Cornell, whom the Gophers have already beaten this year, as well as Incarnate Word and Coppin State.
• In its history, Minnesota is 25-17 against teams from the ACC, including a 10-4 mark at home.
• The Gophers went 2-1 last season against ACC teams. Minnesota defeated Boston College, 78-68, at home on Nov. 19, then went to Las Vegas and beat Wake Forest, 93-81, at the Lady Rebel Round-Up on Nov. 25 before falling at North Carolina, 88-83, in last year’s edition of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge.
• Thursday’s game features a showdown between two of the best guards in the country in Minnesota senior Kenisha Bell and Syracuse junior Tiana Mangakahia.
• Last season, Bell was named an AP Honorable Mention All-American and was a unanimous All-Big Ten First Team honoree. Meanwhile, Mangakahia was named to the All-ACC First Team and led the nation in both assists (304) and assists per game (9.8).
• This year, Bell is averaging 19.6 points, 6.0 rebounds, 4.0 assists and 2.6 steals per game, while Mangakahia is posting 17.0 points, 5.4 rebounds, 5.9 assists and 2.4 steals per contests.
RECAPPING THE WIN OVER CORNELL
• Minnesota opened the contest with a 19-2 run en route to a 65-45 win over Cornell.
• Destiny Pitts hit a season-high three 3-pointers in that opening stretch and finished with 11 points. She was joined in double figures by Kenisha Bell, who scored a game-high 18 points and was a rebound shy of her first double-double of the season.
• Annalese Lamke scored eight points, including all six free throw attempts, and matched a career high with nine rebounds, while Palma Kaposi stuffed the stat sheet off the bench as she tied a career high with six points, grabbed seven rebounds and recorded a career-best three steals.
GOPHERS DEFENSE STRONG TO START SEASON
• Minnesota’s scoring defense has been stellar so far this season and is a big reason the team is 5-0.
• The 235 points allowed by Minnesota through the first five games of the season is the second lowest opponent point total in program history.
• The Gophers have held opponents to 53 points or fewer in five straight games for the first time since the 2004-05 season when they also did it in five straight contests.
• The Golden Gophers lead the Big Ten and rank fifth in the country in scoring defense by allowing just 47.0 points per game. For comparison, last season Minnesota finished the year ranked 335th by allowing 74.8 points per game.
• Additionally, the Gophers are 13th in the country in rebound margin (13.8), 21st in defensive rebounds per game (31), 26th in opponent field goal percentage (32.3) and 29th in scoring margin (+23.0).
• Some of the advanced metrics, via HerHoopStats.com, also illustrate how strong the Gopher defense has been this year. Minnesota ranks fourth in the country in opponent points per play (shot/FT trip/turnover) at 0.57, fifth in opponent points per 100 possessions at 67.4 and sixth in opponent points per scoring attempt (shots/FT trips) at 0.74.
BELLO DOMINATING THE GLASS
• Junior Taiye Bello posted double-doubles in the first three games this season. She was the first Minnesota player to have three straight double-doubles since Amanda Zahui B. ended the 2014-15 season with four in a row. Bello now has seven in her career, with Minnesota going 7-0 in those games.
• Bello finished with 14 points and 14 rebounds in the season opener. She followed that up with 11 points and 16 rebounds at Xavier and had her double-double by halftime with 10 points and 13 rebounds in the first 20 minutes. Next game out against San Diego, she had 13 points and 18 rebounds.
• Though she did not have a double-double against Arkansas-Pine Bluff, she did have a career-high 19 rebounds, which were the most by a Gopher since Zahui B. had 22 against DePaul in the NCAA Tournament on March 20, 2015.
• Through Tuesday’s games, she was second in the Big Ten in offensive rebounds per game (5) and third in rebounds per game (13.6), total rebounds (68), blocked shots per game (2.00) and double-doubles (3).
(info and photo courtesy of Gopher Sports)