Over the past six weeks the Gophers women’s basketball team has done all it could. With the Big Ten schedule set to begin, fans will now see exactly what this team can be.
Thirteenth-ranked Minnesota won its final nonconference game of the season Saturday, in front of 5,224 at Williams Arena, 91-71 against surprisingly pesky Rhode Island.
It pushed the Gophers to 11-0 with Wisconsin looming in their Big Ten opener Friday.
Kenisha Bell had a season-high 28 points with nine rebounds and two steals. Taiye Bello had her sixth double-double (16 points, 15 rebounds). Destiny Pitts struggled with her shot (5-for-16) but scored 19.
Rhode Island was led by Elemy Colome’s 21 points.
“I think we’re more confident in how we’ve been playing,’’ Bell said when asked how she felt about this team, compared to the 10-1 Gophers that entered Big Ten play last season. “We’re 11-0. None of us ever did that.’’
Among their 11 victories is a come-from-behind victory over Syracuse, then ranked 12th. The Gophers won big at 9-2 Xavier and won on the road at Boston College, which is 10-2.
But there were also games against winless Incarnate Word and Coppin State. First-year coach Lindsay Whalen didn’t make this schedule; she inherited it. And her team, which has proved since opening night that it can play defense, has won every game.
So bring on the Big Ten.
“I feel good,’’ Whalen said. “I feel we’re as prepared as we possibly can be. It’s going to be a tough road. The Big Ten is a tough conference. There are going to be ups and downs. But I think we all feel confident going in. When we play defense the way we’re capable of, that will give ourselves a chance.’’
The Rams (5-6) scored 71 points and shot 46.4 percent, both highs by a Gophers opponent this season. But the Gophers have held nine of 11 foes under 40 percent shooting, and they were able to dial up the defense when needed Saturday.
That led to a 17-0 run in the second quarter that put the Gophers up 19, and a 9-2 third-quarter run after the Rams had pulled within 12. The Gophers, who scored a season high in points, led by as many as 26 late in the fourth.
As they have all season, the Gophers won on the boards (40-27), on points from turnovers (25-19) and on second-chance points (10-3).
“This is a really close team,’’ Whalen said. “It’s a fun team to be around. And I think you saw tonight, when we get it going, it’s going to be really fun in the Barn.’’