The Gophers women’s basketball team made it to the second round of the NCAA tournament last season under former coach Marlene Stollings and was undefeated in nonconference play this year under new coach Lindsay Whalen.
Since, then, though, the Gophers are just 3-7 in the Big Ten — even after a nice victory Thursday at Northwestern. What went wrong?
First take: Michael Rand
Well, the Gophers just don’t have the three-point firepower they had a year ago, when they led the Big Ten with 8.8 makes per game from long distance in conference games.
Carlie Wagner graduated, and Gadiva Hubbard has been hurt. They accounted for 58 percent of Minnesota’s made three-pointers in Big Ten play last season.
The Gophers are shooting just 29.7 percent from three-point range in Big Ten games this season, and they’re making just 4.3 per game — less than half last year’s number.
The team’s problems were lurking, but they were masked by a soft nonconference schedule. Nine of the Gophers’ first 11 wins came against teams ranked 183rd or lower in the RPI.
Gophers women’s basketball writer Kent Youngblood: No question the early part of the schedule masked issues that came to light once the Big Ten Conference schedule began. Even before the injury to Hubbard the Gophers were lacking depth; the minutes Kenisha Bell, Annalese Lamke and Destiny Pitts have played have taken a toll.
The Gophers struggled with their shooting even while winning during the nonconference schedule, but Bell and Jasmine Brunson at guard were able to exert enough defensive pressure to mask that problem.
Not so much lately. Pitts has begun hitting her three, but the pressure on her without Wagner and with Hubbard hurt has been constant; there hasn’t been a lot of room for her.
Give Whalen credit. She has adapted. At Northwestern she trotted out a four-guard lineup that was able to score enough to win against what had been a hot team on the road.
Rand: Good point about Thursday’s game, which might have to be the path forward this year. Until they get an influx of shooters — or at least players Whalen herself has recruited for the style she wants to play — they are going to have to scramble for wins.
They have some attributes that suggest they could do that, including a defense that’s allowing almost 10 points fewer in Big Ten games than last season. The Gophers also lead the Big Ten in offensive rebounds per game.
Youngblood: The Gophers will lose Bell after this season but have a highly regarded, jet-fast point guard in Jasmine Powell coming in. She was ranked 78th in the nation by ESPN’s Hoopgurlz. Ideally she would fill Bell’s role. Stillwater’s Sara Scalia will give Whalen another shooter to go with Pitts and, presumably, Hubbard, who could apply for a redshirt.
Whalen’s cupboard shouldn’t be bare. But for the rest of this year? It will continue to be a struggle for the Gophers to score consistently, and the small lineup that worked against Northwestern won’t always work against bigger teams.
Rand: But hey, Whalen lost big as a player in her first seasons with the Gophers and Lynx. Everything after in both cases was legendary.
Final word: Youngblood
Her track record suggests success. But she might need more than one recruiting class to get there.
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