Back when Lindsay Whalen was playing for the United States in the Olympics and at the world championships, she was always struck by how much she liked playing guard in coach Geno Auriemma's offense.
There was always another cut, always another option, always intensity.
"That's why I loved playing in his system when I was in USA Basketball," Whalen said.
Saturday, in the opening game of the Battle 4 Atlantis, on Paradise Island in the Bahamas, Whalen — now the coach of the Gophers women's team — saw how hard it was to play against that system.
In an 88-58 loss to second-ranked Connecticut, the Gophers were outscored 20-5 to start the game, 57-28 over the final two-plus quarters.
That the Gophers (3-2) were able to respond to that first punch with one of their own? Whalen found that encouraging. The rest of it? Educational to her team.
"I thought there were moments we hung in and played tough," said Whalen, whose team will play Syracuse on Sunday. "Moments where we did some things. But that third quarter was tough for us."
UConn (2-0) got 31 points from guard Christyn Williams, who made 12 of 14 shots. Evina Westbrook scored 16. Former Hopkins High School star Paige Bueckers, last season's national player of the year, scored eight points with six rebounds and eight assists. A relatively quiet afternoon, yes. But Bueckers scored the first five points of the second half, the first five of 16 in a row to start the third quarter that pushed a 12-point halftime lead to 28 points.
"I feel like we can learn a lot," said Gophers guard Sara Scalia, who led Minnesota with 17 points, making five of eight three-pointers, including four straight in the second quarter as the Gophers tried to make a game after a slow start. "We can learn from how they pushed in transition. How they played together.''
Deja Winters came off the bench to score 13 points for the Gophers. Kadi Sissoko had 10.
The Huskies punched first, scoring the game's first 12 points and 20 of the first 25, going up 15 just 5½ minutes in the game.
But the Gophers responded. Sissoko drove for a score, Winters hit three three-pointers and Scalia one as the Gophers finished the quarter on a 13-4 run. With the Gophers down eight early in the second quarter, Scalia hit four straight threes in a 12-5 run that pulled the Gophers within 31-30 midway through the quarter.
It got harder from there. Connecticut stretched the lead by to 12 by halftime, then scored the first 16 of the second half.
The Gophers, who shot 13-for-27 in the first half, making 9 of 15 three-pointers, shot just 8-for-25 in the second. The Huskies? They kept rolling, shooting 66.7% in the second half, 62.3% for the game.
"Once our defense got really good and we stopped giving up some of the threes that we were giving up and the dribble penetration, our defense fueled our offense," Auriemma said. "That's how we've got to play, but sometimes I have to be reminded that this was only our second game, and a lot of these other things will click as the tournament goes on."
Particularly effective were UConn's back-door cuts, which helped the Huskies score 48 points in the paint. It was something Whalen said was on top of the scouting report, but difficult to stop; the Huskies got 24 assists on 34 field goals.
"Obviously they're a really good team," Scalia said. "When we got out and denied, they cut us. Especially in the third quarter. We needed to do better on that."
But there were some good things Whalen took away. How her team adapted to the 1-2-2 zone the Huskies opened with. How they fought back after a slow start.
"There were times I felt good about how we played the second-ranked team in the country," Whalen said.
Said Auriemma: "Like I told Lindsay, if they shoot the ball like they did in the first half, they're going to win a bunch of games."
The Star Tribune did not travel for this game. This article was written using the television broadcast and video interviews before and/or after the game.