The Gophers women’s basketball team started the season winning seven consecutive games, tying its third-best start in program history.
That’s a prideful mark, but coach Marlene Stollings knows her team was also oh-so-close to starting 13-0 in the nonconference portion of the schedule.
“We’re three possessions away — this is the exciting part — we are three possessions away from being undefeated right now,” said Stollings, after the final nonconference game, a 101-75 victory over University of California Riverside on Dec. 22.
“That’s real encouraging for our team. I think it’s a big momentum builder.”
She cited two possessions at North Carolina in their 88-83 loss and one possession in the 72-69 loss at San Diego earlier this month.
The Gophers (12-2, 1-0 Big Ten) will look to keep the momentum rolling as they host Nebraska (9-5, 0-1) in their Big Ten home opener at 2 p.m. Sunday. The Gophers are 7-0 at Williams Arena this season. They opened conference play with a 90-63 victory at Northwestern on Thursday night.
Stollings has seen growth and maturity within her team, compared to last year when they “were young and youthful in a lot of ways,” she said.
The numbers are already looking up from last season when the Gophers finished 10th in the Big Ten (15-16, 5-11). They welcomed eight newcomers last season, and freshmen accounted for 21.7 percent of the team’s scoring.
In 13 nonconference games this season, the Gophers rank third in the Big Ten in scoring, averaging 87.6 points per game. Three-pointers and free throws are their strengths as well; they rank second in both threes (9.2) and free throws (16) made per game in the conference.
One more note from Stollings: Speed kills.
“We’re as quick as anybody in the Big Ten with our backcourt,” Stollings said.
Redshirt junior guard Kenisha Bell sees the advantage she and her teammates have when they hit the court with such a blistering pace.
“A lot of teams struggle with guarding us just because of our speed,” Bell said.
She’s made it tough on opponents, scoring at least 20 points in five consecutive games. The Minneapolis native is first among Big Ten players with 91 assists and is fifth in scoring. She’s also coming off two consecutive weeks on the Big Ten Player of the Week honor roll.
Sophomore guard Gadiva Hubbard, freshman guard/forward Destiny Pitts, senior center Jessie Edwards and senior guard Carlie Wagner round out the starting five.
Two-time All-Big Ten honoree Wagner and Bell combine for the bulk of the scoring power. Wagner averages 18.6 points per game, behind Bell’s 21.1. In just the past two games, Wagner has jumped from seventh to fifth on the Gophers’ all-time scoring list with 1,857 points, passing Janel McCarville (1,835 from 2001-05) and Linda Roberts (1,856 from 1977-81).
Wagner said she learned a lot from the past season, and Stollings has worked with her on “not being a roller coaster,” Wagner said.
“It’s helped too because of my teammates stepping up as well,” Wagner said. “We are so consistently balanced this year that it makes it really easy.”