About 1,000 fans showed up at Williams Arena to watch the Gophers women’s basketball team hold an open practice/scrimmage. For the freshmen, it was a first opportunity to get on the Barn’s raised floor. For Lindsay Whalen, it was her first chance to coach her new team on the court she played her college ball on.
Here were some impressions:
--Whalen is asking Kenisha Bell to expand her game. Bell has spent most of her basketball life with the ball in her hands, but Whalen is having her learn the off-guard position too. The starting backcourt of Bell and Jasmine Brunson is quick, and both are very good with the ball. Bell is all about doing whatever is best for the team, but it will be an adjustment. But I think she could be effective off the ball. There will be a lot of times she gets the ball and an opponent will try to close out on her. With Bell’s quickness she should be able to get a lot of open shots in that scenario.
--Considering most of the players on this team have never played man-to-man defense, they appear to be catching on pretty well. Saturday their rotations were pretty good. Yes, there was the occasional mistake, but that’s to be expected. With Brunson and Bell up top and Taiye Bello at the four, this team is quick and athletic enough to do it.
--Judging from today, I would say Destiny Pitts is in line for a strong sophomore season. While winning freshman of the year honors in the Big Ten last season, she shot almost 70 percent of her shots from behind the arc. But her role – probably more than any other on the team – has changed. Pitts will be more of a true small forward now. She is being asked to move more without the ball, get to open spots for shots. Over and over Saturday she got the ball on the move, dribbled once into the lane and drained a mid-range jumper. She can still hit the three, so opponents will have to respect that. I think Whalen sees Pitts filling a role much like Maya Moore does with the Lynx.
--Bello looks very quick and athletic rebounding the ball. She also had some nice rip move to the hoop.
--I think freshman Mercedes Staples will get a lot of playing time. She is also learning both the point and off-guard positions. She has a nice crossover and can get her shot off. She also has good range on her shot.
--One final note: Gadiva Hubbard, one of three returning starters, has been bothered by a foot injury. She did not take part Saturday. Whalen said more would be known about her situation in the coming week.