Piece by piece, Gophers freshman Shayne Mullaney is taking advantage of a good opportunity.
The former Eden Prairie star has been shoring up her defensive play since her first start against Virginia 11 days ago. She ranks second on the team in assists and is handling the ball more every game while limiting turnovers. Sunday, in her fifth game as a starter, she broke out on the scoreboard.
Mullaney shot 6-for-7 from the field, including 4-for-4 from three-point range for a career-high 18 points while leading Minnesota to a 82-60 victory over Robert Morris.
"I feel like every game I'm trying to improve and do better," Mullaney said. "I feel like I'm developing my role on the team."
Mullaney is starting in place of fellow freshman and defensive stalwart Mikayla Bailey.
"It's a lot to fill, but I'm doing my best and it will be great to have her back in a couple weeks," Mullaney said.
Despite poor defense and a sluggish start, balanced scoring helped the Gophers cruise to their third consecutive nonconference victory.
During the U's sloppy start, Robert Morris outhustled and outrebounded the Gophers. The Colonials also drained three three-pointers to give them a 14-10 early lead. It might have been easy to overlook Robert Morris' 0-7 record heading into Sunday's game, but the Colonials made the Gophers earn the victory.
The game included 11 lead changes in the first half. Mullaney drained a three to give the Gophers a 33-30 lead with five minutes left in the first half. Rachel Banham came up with a steal and bucket to inject some life into the Gophers. Minnesota started playing with more hustle and urgency as it built a 48-34 lead into halftime. Sari Noga added a three-pointer with two seconds left. The junior guard scored nine points in the first half, all from behind the arc, and finished with 13 points and five assists. Her four threes tied a career high.
"I think Sari is one of those players that you can't take off the floor. She just does everything," coach Pam Borton said.
Four Gophers scored in double figures. Banham scored 12 and Micaella Riche 11. Kionna Kellogg had eight points and eight rebounds.
"I thought we had great offensive efficiency tonight, especially against a defense we haven't seen all year," Borton said.
Minnesota didn't have much of an answer for Artemis Spanou, who scored 24 points and added 15 rebounds to lead Robert Morris.
"I thought our defense was below average tonight, at best," Borton said.
The Gophers committed 14 turnovers, scored 28 points in the paint and outrebounded the Colonials 36-33. Robert Morris shot 34.5 percent.
The Gophers don't play again until Dec. 21 at home against Northern Iowa.