Friday, March 8 - 3:00 p.m.
Minnesota suffered a tough loss to Ohio State on Thursday night, but the Big Ten Tournament still provided a chance for the team, fans and former players to connect. Some former Gophers traveled to Hoffman Estates to see their old team play. Zoe Harper, Kristen Dockery and China Antoine all met up to watch some basketball and spend the weekend together. Brittany McCoy was also in attendance.
Antoine was one of the former Gophers in attendance.
Harper plays professional basketball in Australia and works for a logistics company, Dockery works at a fitness club, and Antoine works in corporate fitness. All three visited our hotel after the game on Thursday.
Before they had an opportunity to reconnect with former Gophers, the current Gophers had a game to play. It was pretty quiet when we returned to Sears Centre, as the arena had cleared out after the second game of the day. It started getting louder as tipoff approached.
The Minnesota pep band, cheerleaders and Goldy all traveled to the tournament to help encourage the Gophers. Family, friends and loyal fans formed a loud cheering section behind the Minnesota bench. A Gopher pep band member even won the halftime "Simon says" competition.
After the Buckeyes had won the game, we all had dinner back at the hotel. It was nice to be able to sleep another night in Hoffman Estates and fly back to Minneapolis in the morning. We got back safely on Friday afternoon. Thanks to everyone who supported the team on this road trip.
Thursday, March 7 - 1:15 p.m.
Game day has arrived for the Gophers at the Big Ten Tournament. After a delicious breakfast this morning, the Gophers had a walk-through to go over some last preparations for Ohio State. Overall, it was a relaxing morning at the hotel.
Loberg is ready for her final Big Ten Tournament.
Most of the travel party loaded the bus to take a first look at the inside of the Sears Centre. We arrived before the first game, Iowa vs. Northwestern, tipped off. The Sears Centre is a relatively new multi-purpose facility. Its other uses include indoor football and soccer. Based on our walk to our seats for the first game, it seemed like the concourses were nice and wide for the fans.
We watched most of the first half of the game before heading back out to the bus. Iowa's pep band and mascot, who were close to where we sat, also provided some entertainment.
This will be the last Big Ten Tournament in a Gopher uniform for Minnesota seniors Katie Loberg and Leah Cotton. Loberg has liked her stay in Hoffman Estates so far, and is ready to get on the court.
"I'm pretty excited for this," Loberg said. "You kind of get this new spark of energy whenever the Big Ten Tournament rolls around. I'm wide awake and ready to win."
The Gophers have beaten Ohio State twice this season and will try to make it a three-peat tonight in the 8-seed vs. 9-seed game. The winner will face 1-seed Penn State tomorrow. Tonight's game will appear on BTN at 6 p.m. CT.
Wednesday, March 6 - 9:30 p.m.
As the Big Ten Tournament slogan says, "March is on." One of the most fun sports months of the year has begun. The Minnesota women's basketball team is part of the excitement, with its first conference tournament game against Ohio State at 6 p.m. tomorrow.
Banham and the Gophers arrived in Hoffman Estates today.
The Golden Gophers arrived in Hoffman Estates, Ill., Wednesday evening. A travel party of players, coaches and team and department staff (including athletics director Norwood Teague) caught a chartered flight to Midway Airport this afternoon. After a nice short plane trip, we bused to our hotel. We passed the Sears Centre, which is hosting the tournament, on the way.
A few other teams are staying in the same hotel, and Big Ten school balloons and banners adorn the lobby area. Our room keys even have the Big Ten Tournament logo on them.
After the team meal and film session, Rachel Banham had a chance to reunite with one of her former teammates from Lakeville North High School, Cassie Rochel. Rochel is a junior for the Wisconsin Badgers, who are staying in the same hotel. The two met in the lobby to catch up.
"I'm glad that we're able to be with them, especially because there are only three teams here," Banham said. "We were texting all day wanting to meet up. I think it's fun that she's in this tournament so I can watch her and hope she does well, and just be around her again."
Wisconsin is on the opposite side of the bracket from Minnesota, so the high school teammates would both need to make the title game to face each other again this season. Right now, the Gophers' focus is on tomorrow night's game against Ohio State.
"I think we're all really pumped," Banham. "It's going to be a big game tomorrow. We've beaten them twice. It's hard to beat a team three times. They know what to expect, and we know how they play. I think we're all really prepared and we're ready just to get out there tomorrow and play."