Before Wednesday's Big Ten opener with Michigan State was 5 minutes old, a slew of turnovers by the Gophers women's basketball team had fueled a 16-0 Spartans run that gave them a 16-2 lead.

Over the final 35-plus minutes of the game the Gophers actually outscored Michigan State 66-65. But the hole they dug was too deep in the loss.

That sort of start wouldn't end well for the Gophers when they play at 17th-ranked Northwestern on Monday night — Minnesota's first road game after a 1-2 start at home.

Because of a COVID-19 cancellation, the Wildcats have played just one game, beating Eastern Illinois by 36 points — the same team the Gophers beat by four points in their season opener.

For the Gophers to be competitive, they'll have to start the game stronger.

"We worked on that in practice," coach Lindsay Whalen said. "We played several mini-scrimmages through the last two days. We've held the team accountable as far as taking care of the ball."

The Gophers have fallen behind early in all three games. In the first quarter the Gophers have averaged six turnovers, which their opponents have turned into an average of 6.3 points. They fell behind Michigan State by 14 early and in a one-sided loss to Drake the Gophers were down 24-9 just 6 ½ minutes into the game.

"I think the biggest thing for us is limiting turnovers off the bat," said Sara Scalia, who returned from injury to make her season debut vs. Michigan State. "We have to take care of the ball, be more tough with it."

The Gophers continue to get healthier. Whalen also had freshman point guard Alexia Smith back for the Michigan State game. Both she and Scalia played 29 minutes, and both showed some rust.

Forward Laura Bagwell-Katalinich is expected to make her season debut at Northwestern; the practices leading up to this game were the first Whalen has had with a full complement of players this fall.

Bagwell-Katalinich could start should Whalen opt to go with a smaller lineup that would have Kadi Sissoko at power forward.

But starting strong is a big key for Monday's game. Having a full roster has made it easier to hold scrimmages in practice, something Whalen hopes will help. The Gophers get a break after the Northwestern game, allowing them more work in practice before a Dec. 23 game with Indiana. After that game the Gophers don't play again until Jan. 3.

"I feel we'll be more prepared Monday than we were for the games last week," Whalen said. "And we're getting people back now."