Five things to know as the Gophers women’s basketball team starts a new era tonight at Williams Arena:
1. New sheriff
Marlene Stollings might have made a good sheriff, actually. She brings her intense, hyper-detailed personality and up-tempo style to Minnesota after injecting energy into programs at VCU and Winthrop along the way. If you missed our Sunday profile on her, read it at startribune.com/stollings.
2. the Big Ten’s best
Rachel Banham was named Big Ten preseason player of the year this fall. That honor is worth exactly zero victories, but it does show the high expectations around the senior guard from Lakeville. Another guard from the metro area once broke the school scoring mark and led the team to the Final Four: Lindsay Whalen. Banham could break Whalen’s record as soon as December if she stays healthy and continues to put big numbers on the stat sheet.
3. It won’t be 1-on-5
Banham’s fantastic, but the Gophers reportedly still are planning to start four other players as well. Among those, Amanda Zahui B. and Shae Kelley are worth watching the most closely in these early games. The 6-5 Zahui B. became a force last season, setting the conference rebound record (394 boards) and posting 18 double-doubles. She was named to the media’s preseason all-Big Ten team and should be a great balance to Banham. Kelley, a 6-1 forward, was an All-Conference USA pick last season for Old Dominion. She graduated early and, therefore, is eligible immediately.
4. Run, shoot, run. Repeat.
Fans showing up five minutes late on Friday night could miss 30 points. These Gophers will run, if preseason workouts were any indication, and the tempo should be a crowd-pleaser for fans who remember a 42-point effort from the Gophers in a deflating home loss late last season to Purdue. As a prep star, Stollings set the Ohio state record for points scored — and yes, that includes some kid named LeBron James. She’s expected to bring that “score, score, and score some more” approach to Williams.
5. Uh, that UConn?
In their fourth game of the season, at the Gulf Coast Showcase in Fort Myers, Fla., the Gophers have to tangle with Vanderbilt. No easy dance there, as Vandy, with Braham’s Rebekah Dahlman, is receiving some preseason poll votes, as are the Gophers. If Minnesota does get by Vanderbilt in that tournament, its reward? Connecticut, if the Huskies with their tournament opener. Yes, two-time defending NCAA champion, No. 1-ranked Connecticut.