It was going to happen, of course.
The Gophers women’s basketball team started the season 12-0 thanks to a combination of a relatively light nonconference schedule, a bevy of home games and a strong start by several players.
But that perfect record fell in Michigan last Sunday, the loss on the road against a strong Big Ten Conference opponent that outrebounded the Gophers and harassed them with a 1-2-2 zone that caused 21 Gophers turnovers in a 16-point Wolverines win.
And now first-year coach Lindsay Whalen gets to see how her team will respond to its first loss.
“That’s how you find out about your team,” Whalen said. “It’s through adversity. I told the guys today that every championship team I was on with the Lynx had a three-game losing streak. It’s easy when you’re 12-0, to get extra shots up, do all the right things. When you drop a game like that, when you’re down 24, 25 points, that’s when you find out what you have.”
What the 12-1 and 12th-ranked Gophers have is another opportunity, Sunday at home against Illinois. And the fact they’ve had a full week to prepare for the game is key. It gave Whalen and her team time to work on what went wrong in Michigan, get some rest, and to focus on the Illini.
“We got outrebounded,” Whalen said. “Turnovers. We have to take care of the ball. I’m thankful for this bye week that we have some time in practice.”
In Michigan, the Wolverines turned those 21 Gophers turnovers into 26 points. It was that 1-2-2 press that fueled Michigan’s 21-2 run to end to the second quarter.
The Gophers had seen the 1-2-2 before, handling it well in a victory over ranked Syracuse earlier in the season. But Michigan’s size and quickness made it more of a challenge. Michigan also was able to squeeze the middle once the Gophers got into the halfcourt. Whalen said, in retrospect, she should have made adjustments more quickly.
The good news is that there aren’t a whole lot of Big Ten teams that can play the 1-2-2 the way Michigan can. But, having watched how the Gophers struggle with it, other teams will try to do the same thing.
“We know what we need to work on,” center Annalese Lamke said. “And we knew going into this season we can’t be perfect. It was a good step back into realty; 12-0 is great, but now it’s kind of a reality check.”
Senior guard Kenisha Bell has been productive but has struggled with her shot of late. Whalen said Bell is getting a lot of attention from opponents, drawing extra defenders with her drives to the basket. One key will be getting Bell to get the ball to open teammates when that happens.
“A lot of teams are just looking for me to drive,” Bell said. “So I have to learn how to create that vision for those who are open when I do.”
The Gophers, 1-1 in conference play, have yet to lose at home this season (10-0). They knew that first loss would come. Now they get a chance to show how they respond to it.
“That’s how it is in basketball and in life,” Whalen said. “When you find adversity, that’s when you find out what you have.”