MADISON, WIS. – The transition from player to coach hasn’t been tough for Lindsay Whalen, mainly because it’s been a whirlwind experience for the first-season Gophers coach.
“The good thing for me is that I haven’t had time to think about it,” Whalen said on Thursday night following the No. 23 Gophers’ 78-50 victory over Wisconsin at the Kohl Center.
“I think I had five days from my last WNBA game to [when] I was in the office full-time with the Gophers.”
Getting Minnesota’s first victory of 2019 put Whalen and the Gophers in an upbeat mood, following a difficult period of time.
Senior guard Kenisha Bell scored 14 of her game-high 25 points in the first half against the Badgers to help end Minnesota’s four-game losing streak.
Bell, who entered the game averaging 18.7 points per game, tied a career high with 10 assists and also moved into 10th place on the Gophers’ career scoring list with 1,467 points, passing Emily Fox (1,449).
Senior center Annalese Lamke added 15 points and junior forward Taiye Bello 14. Both had nine rebounds for the Gophers, who won their 13th consecutive game against Wisconsin, and the sixth straight in Madison.
Teammate Jasmine Brunson tied a career-high with four steals.
The Gophers (13-4, 2-4 Big Ten) earned their only other league victory on Dec. 28, beating the Badgers 74-56 at Williams Arena when Bell had one of her other two double-doubles this season with 17 points and 10 rebounds.
That December victory also gave the Gophers a 12-0 start to the season under Whalen, a former Gophers and Lynx standout.
In this latest win, the Gophers overcame a drought in which they didn’t score a field goal during the final 4 minutes, 36 seconds of the first quarter, missing field goals on their final eight possessions. Among the misses were second- and third-chance opportunities under the basket.
But the Gophers didn’t play as sloppy overall as the Badgers (10-8, 1-5), who committed 16 turnovers — leading to 13 points for the Gophers — and shot a woeful 8-for-21 from the free-throw line.
Senior forward Marsha Howard scored a team-high 10 points for the Badgers.
Minnesota, which scored 13 points off Wisconsin turnovers, shot 49.1 percent (28-for-57) from the field and 72.7 percent (16-for-22) from the foul line. Bell was 8-for-10 on free throws and Lamke 5-for-5.
The Gophers also were sharp on three-pointers, making six of 10 for a season-high 60 percent.
“The pace was faster than normal, we pushed the ball and had a good tempo throughout the whole game,” Bell said. “We didn’t let up on the tempo.”
Bell said Whalen kept an even keel during the Gophers’ losing streak.
“She stayed positive the whole time,” Bell said. “Once you face adversity, you’ve got to learn how to tough it out, and your time is coming.
“She remained positive and we didn’t [keep] our heads down, and it’s worked out. We had team bonding sessions, and keeping us together had an impact on this win.”
Managing expectations and steering away from the here-and-now approach are Whalen’s priorities.
“My challenge and my thoughts have been trying to take myself out of some of the results and realizing that we’re building something here,” she said.
“I want to win like everybody, but keeping the big picture in mind helps.”