There are still things to work out.
Gophers women’s basketball coach Lindsay Whalen has yet to make some final rotation decisions. The importance of ball security is still on top of her list. But, with the Gophers — 9-1 and on a nine-game winning streak — set to play their final nonconference game against Lehigh on Saturday at noon, Whalen feels good about her team. In a lot of ways.
“I didn’t know what to think last year,” said Whalen, in her second year as Gophers coach. The Gophers rolled through a very soft preseason slate undefeated last year before a difficult first half of the Big Ten season. This year’s nonconference schedule was an upgrade. The Gophers’ only loss came to a ranked Missouri State team that is currently third in the RPI ratings. The Gophers have beaten a then-ranked Arizona State team and won at Notre Dame — still a quality win despite the Irish being in a rebuilding season.
“We’re in a good place,” Whalen said. “I like where our guys are at mentally, where the team is, where the chemistry is at.”
Lehigh is a Pennsylvania school with six Minnesotans on the roster. All six played in the North Tartan AAU program. The pipeline started with Hannah Hedstrom, who won a state title with Minnetonka. Both her mother, Mary, and older sister, Joanna, played for the Gophers. But Hannah’s decision to go to Lehigh started a regular stream of players from Minnesota, including Megan Walker, Hedstrom’s teammate at Minnetonka. The others are Anna Harvey (Lakeville South), Frannie Hottinger (Cretin-Derham Hall), Emma Grothaus (Mahtomedi) and Mariah Sexe (East Ridge).
The 7-2 Mountain Hawks use a full-court zone press.
“We need to take care of the ball,” Whalen said. “They force 19 turnovers a game. That and rebounding have been our focus.”
As for rotations, Whalen has yet to decide who will be Taiye Bello’s backup in the post. Her sister, Kehinde Bello, freshman Klarke Sconiers and Barbora Tomancova are competing there.
In the backcourt, freshman Jasmine Powell will get big minutes off the bench. Mercedes Staples’ decision to enter the transfer portal has given Masha Adashchyk an opportunity, too.
But, overall, Whalen feels confident. Destiny Pitts’ growth continues. And the return of Gadiva Hubbard — who missed last season because of injury — has been a big boost. Pitts (15.6 points per game) and Hubbard (13.3) give the team a 1-2 punch from the outside. Taiye Bello is averaging a double-double and freshman guard Sara Scalia has played well.
“We haven’t played for a week,” Whalen said. “We just had finals. I want to see them come out strong.”