Friday afternoon, on the Williams Arena court, Gophers women’s basketball coach Lindsay Whalen put her team through its final practice before hosting 24th-ranked Indiana on Saturday night.
Much of the focus: offense.
In an up-and-down season that has the Gophers — 15-11 overall, 5-10 in the Big Ten — on a three-game losing streak, this is a slight change.
Before Monday’s game at Michigan State it has been all defense. The Gophers had given up 176 points in back-to-back losses to Michigan and Ohio State, two teams that combined to shoot 55% overall and make 16 of 37 three-pointers.
“Getting beat by 25, on our home floor [to Michigan] is never going to be OK here, as long as I’m here,” Whalen said. “And giving up 99 points on the road to Ohio State was not going to be OK. So we really focused on the details, the game plan, the defensive energy. Then we held Michigan State to 36% shooting and 66 points.”
But the Gophers lost, in large part because of an offense that shot 29% and scored only 54 points.
“It was a single-digit game at Michigan State in the fourth quarter because our defense is there,’’ Whalen said. “The team really took hold of that, took ownership. I was really proud of that. And now we have to get some shots to fall.”
It won’t be easy. The Gophers have three more games before the start of the conference tournament, and they are against Indiana, at No. 19 Iowa and at home against No. 7 Maryland. Three final conference games against three ranked opponents, three teams with a combined 12-4 record in February.
“We have to work on our execution and spacing and all those things,” Whalen said. “[Saturday] night you’ll see a team that is very focused on the game in general, on both ends of the court.”
It will have to be.
Points have been hard to come by for the Gophers much of the year. The team is 12th in the Big Ten in field-goal percentage (39.7). When the Gophers have scored, much of the points have come off their defense, in transition.
The Gophers worked hard this week on spacing, the angle of screens, waiting for shooters to come free and knowing when to cut to the basket.
And then the shots have to fall. Guard Jasmine Powell is leading the team in scoring in conference games (12.9). She is also the leading freshman scorer in the Big Ten overall (11.7). She has scored in double figures in nine straight games, but has shot just 9-for-33 in her past two games. Junior Gadiva Hubbard has scored in double figures just once in the past four games and is 4-for-23 in the past three losses. Sara Scalia, third among Big Ten freshman scorers (11.2), is 10-for-33 in her past three games.
“We work too hard not to break through at some point,” said senior guard Jasmine Brunson, who missed two games after being hit in the head by an elbow during a victory over Rutgers on Feb. 2. She came off the bench against Ohio State and returned as a starter vs. Michigan State. “We know what we’re playing for. I definitely think we can make a run.”
It will take a continuation of the defense played against Michigan State with a more efficient offense.
“This team is capable of doing anything if we put our mind to it and focus on the details,” Hubbard said.